Why honesty at work is more valuable than a brave face

When you're at the top of a business, you might be tempted to say to your employees that everything is fine because you have all the answers.

Dennis Carey: I think the most important part of any CEO running a major global corporation is to be on the ground in those geographies—to the extent that he or she is able to do so—and also to build a team, a trusted advisory team which is having ongoing communications. 

A good case in point would be Alan Mulally at Ford when he took over in a very, very tumultuous time in the auto industry. He established his own War Room. Everyone on deck around the globe on screens around the world to weigh in on challenges, opportunities, and he had a grading system: green light, yellow light, red light. Not too difficult to understand in concept. 

But he would go around and ask each one of the leaders around the world whether things were going really well, if there was a yellow light if there was some caution and a red light indicating that there were problems that needed to be addressed. 

If someone, especially during the calamitous period of time that Ford was going through, if someone gave a green light, which we’re all prone to try to do especially near performance appraisal time, he would typically ding them by saying, “Wait a minute. We all need help. Nothing is ever perfect, so tell us how we can help you in a collaborative way around the world to support you.”

And by the fifth or sixth meeting, virtually everyone was giving yellow and red lights. And what that did was it forced employees, the senior executives from every corner of the globe to not be afraid to ask for help and to acknowledge that they needed help. 

And the fear factor of the next performance evaluation went away because they recognized that if they were asking for help they would get rewarded. 

And in fact over a period of time, this cross-cultural collaboration began to develop and grow. 

And people, whether it be from China or Singapore or Malaysia, London, Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, Mexico City or New York City, they began to speak effectively with the same tone. 

Now clearly, language is interpreted differently around the world so there typically would be at least a second or third translation of what was actually implied or meant in those discussions, but over time that team developed a sense, a bonded collaborative spirit and they were rewarded economically for working together.

When you're at the top of a business, you might be tempted to say to your employees that everything is fine because you're in charge and have all the solutions to all the problems. Dennis Carey, author and Vice Chairman of the incredibly influential corporate recruiting agency Korn/Ferry International, thinks that is the wrong approach. He tells us here about how Ford's CEO Alan Mulally turned Ford's financial futures around just by finding a novel way to get his employees to be more honest about how they were doing. Ego can often stand in the way of asking for help, and if your ego is hurting your business, you'd better put that ego aside and be truthful. Dennis Carey's new book is a Talent Wins: The New Playbook for Putting People First.

Ha Jin on the wild and tragic life of China's greatest poet, Li Bai

The 8th century AD was a tough time to be a genius from a poor family in China. Poet and novelist Ha Jin on the tortured life of the legendary drunken poet Li Bai. Also: panpsychism, the value of idleness, and humanities education in America today.

Think Again Podcasts
  • "I knew in the case of Li Bai, I should follow the poems. Every masterpiece by him would be kind of a small crisis…a center for drama in his life."
  • "There are people who want a different kind of fulfillment. Society should be open to that. In the long run, you don't know—maybe those idlers can produce more for the society."
Keep reading Show less

Golden blood: the rarest blood in the world

We explore the history of blood types and how they are classified to find out what makes the Rh-null type important to science and dangerous for those who live with it.

Abid Katib/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Fewer than 50 people worldwide have 'golden blood' — or Rh-null.
  • Blood is considered Rh-null if it lacks all of the 61 possible antigens in the Rh system.
  • It's also very dangerous to live with this blood type, as so few people have it.
Keep reading Show less

Billionaire warlords: Why the future is medieval

The world's next superpower might just resurrect the Middle Ages.

Videos
  • Russia? China? No. The rising world superpower is the billionaire class. Our problem, says Sean McFate, is that we're still thinking in nation states.
  • Nation states have only existed for the last 300-400 years. Before that, wealthy groups – tribes, empires, aristocracies, etc – employed mercenaries to wage private wars.
  • As wealth inequality reaches combustion point, we could land back in the status quo ante of the Middle Ages. Who will our overlords be? Any or all of the 26 ultra-rich billionaires who own as much as the world's 3.8 billion poorest. What about Fortune 500, which is more powerful than most of the states in the world? Random billionaires, multinational corporations, and the extractive industry may buy armies and wage war on their own terms.
Keep reading Show less