Skip to content

Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #149: Leader Skill: How to Deliver the Kind-Hard Truth

August 12, 2021
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #149: Leader Skill: How to Deliver the Kind-Hard Truth

Providing direct and often difficult feedback to people about their performance can be challenging, but great leaders do it well. Today Perry and Chris talk about how to preserve relationships by delivering the kind-hard truth.

Want to enhance your organization’s leadership culture? Learn more about our 5 Levels of Leadership private workshops HERE – Offered virtually and on-site to meet your organization’s health guidelines.

Download our Learning Guide for this podcast!

Read the Transcript:

Perry Holley:    Welcome to the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others, and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable. Hi, I’m Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach.

Chris Goede:     And I’m Chris Goede, Vice President of the John Maxwell Company. Welcome and thank you for joining. As a reminder, if you would like to read Perry’s blog, or if you want to download a learner’s guide, maybe even want to learn more about how we can bring virtual content to your organization, please visit And you can also leave us a question or a comment there. We’d also love if you take the time to share these podcasts with people that you work with, your peers, maybe some friends, some leaders, whatever it might be. If it’s adding value to you, we’d encourage you to share it and add value to them. Well, today’s topic is titled Leader Skill: How to Deliver the Kind, Hard Truth. You can’t handle the truth. Not everybody will understand that line right there, but love that. Talk to us, Perry, where are we going today?

Perry Holley:    Well, I’ve had situations lately on coaching calls where the person I’m coaching has admitted that they have not had a difficult conversation with someone on their team because of … When I ask why not they said, “Well, I don’t really like the conflict or the potential for conflict that it might cause.” And it appears that these people are really good at giving positive feedback to others, but if there’s a negative or constructive feedback, they get a little more cautious. They even avoid it altogether.

If it’s sometimes performance issues, I’ve noticed those get pushed. And I’ve reflected on my own life as a young leader, coming up and wanting to be liked or wanting to be positive or wanting to help, whatever. I came up with a phrase that, when I found myself struggling, was that, “Perry, are you delivering the kind, hard truth?” And it was a set of words I hadn’t … Didn’t go together, but is it, can you deliver the hard, direct, clear truth while maintaining kindness and relationship and that sort of thing. So that’s where it comes from.

Chris Goede:     Well, and I think it’s a great topic. I think a lot of people do shy away from that. We have some people that run to it. You may know people like that. And I think tension … Let me just say this too, as we’re leading people, tension is good. In teams, tension is good if you do it in the right way. And I love how you have labeled that. It also makes me think about … Perry and I talk a lot about the five levels of influence. We talk about, you’re naturally bent towards level two, which is the connection and relation. Or you’re naturally bent towards level three, which is the production, get it done. And so, often what we see is that those that are naturally bent towards level two, the relationship side, connecting with people, struggle with this more than those that are, with level three influence, naturally wired.

Why not always, but we do see that sometimes. And maybe not. Maybe it’s even for level three people, it can be challenging for them to confront people. It is something that all of us leaders have to work through. And especially when it comes to your observation, your opinion, what you see about their performance. But it’s really important that you have those conversations. We like to say, around our organization, that you do it in real time too. Not wait until the annual review and it happened nine months ago. Let’s have this on an ongoing basis and making sure that you are doing it. So, in fact, when you’re having this dialogue, this communication, this straight talk, it’s really required when you set expectations for their work towards the desired outcomes. Make sure you set the expectations.

And then it’s a little bit easier for you to be able to have those conversations. Make sure that this is something that’s required that you do when you’re evaluating their performance against those expectations. Just like I said, set them, make sure it’s very clear, and then make sure you have it against them. And then I think you got to be straight and have these conversations when it comes to coaching somebody for their own development. Whether it’s a skill-based development or whether it’s from a actual leadership development space, you got to be able to have that straight talk.

To be a Successful Leader, You Need Feedback on Your Leadership.

We’re excited to announce our new and improved Organizational Effectiveness Survey (OES). The OES gathers feedback from employees to give leaders and management the knowledge and action plans needed to develop a more effective and productive work environment. Our new version measures 4 areas of your business: Leadership, People, Strategy, and Performance. 

Perry Holley:    Yeah. And I’ve known leaders who were really good at giving the kind kind truth, that may actually have been me. I’ve actually got a couple in my mind that were good at giving the hard hard truth. They didn’t really care about your feelings so much. But what I’ve learned is it really takes a mature, confident, servant-minded leader to successfully deliver this kind, hard truth. And I’ve seen it. I saw it modeled to me by a leader that I had years ago that really didn’t hold back on telling me hard things. But I never left the room thinking he wasn’t doing it for me, for my improvement, he cared about me. And instead of focusing on maintaining that feelings of peace with no conflict, could I focus, based on his example, on caring for you enough to risk upsetting the peace in conflict because I care. And I want to, I want to be that person in your life.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. Velvet covered brick upside the head, is what I’ve heard it called. But yeah, I think when it comes to communication and having these conversations, to use your word kind, clear is kind. So we got to make sure that we are extremely clear in our communication because if we’re not, and we fumble and bumble around, and we have uncertainty in how we’re going to communicate, it only makes the whole conversation a whole lot worse. So we need to make sure that we’re very clear. So to help you with that, this is why I love Perry right here, here comes this number. My favorite number. Five ways, I think you love five, leaders can improve how they deliver the kind, hard truth. So let’s start with number one, leaders see potential in the people they lead. We teach, you should put a 10 on everybody’s head. Is this kind of what you’re thinking?

Perry Holley:    Oh man, yes, but I’ll tell you, I get push back 100% of the time when I say, “Put a 10 on someone’s head.” But they’re not a 10, they’re a four. That’s not the point. But they can be a 10 and they have potential. And I just notice when I see potential in others … How I see you, how I see others, and they’re not living up to or performing to that potential, then I’m more motivated to share the kind, hard truth with them to help them close that gap in their potential. And I think if you see people, and this is what John’s teaching when he says, “Put a 10 on their head,” is that I just know that you can do more.

I know that you have it in you, even though you may be a four today, I can help you do that. Then it makes me more consistent in my not sugarcoating things, but actually having the truth with you, the hard truth, but in a kind way. Number two I said was, I need to choose being respected over being liked. I kind of mentioned this earlier about, in my early days, wanting to be liked. But I really need to put my own comfort aside for the sake of investing in you. So it’s not about me being comfortable or being like, but it’s about me investing in you.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. The first thing that comes to mind when you talk about this was, I know he won’t mind me sharing, Mark Kohler, our CEO, he’s a naturally level two bent leader. Very collaborative and got a thousand things going on. And one of the things that John spent a couple of years, really, mentoring and coaching him through was, as a leader are you more worried about being liked than you are being respected as a leader? And that’s a question that I think we have to answer because there’s a big difference between the two. One’s, I think, short term. Where they’ll like you, but then eventually it may go away, especially if they begin to disrespect you.

But I think, long-term, I think you can actually be liked and respected. I think this is a great parenting principle, by the way, as well. I think a lot of us tend to want to go on the like side, but really if we think about it and we go about it the right way during hard times and conversations, ultimately there’ll be respect there and liked over the longterm. So even the example that you shared was short-term discomfort, but the thing that’s come out of it to where you say, “Hey man, it’s one of the greatest leaders that I’ve ever had.” So I love that. Number three, value connection over content in these conversation.

Perry Holley:    Yeah. That’s really come up recently for me is that, can you deliver a hard message but maintain the connection with the person that you’re having the straight talk with. And I think it’s easy to focus so much on our message that others don’t think enough about how to preserve the connection we have with them. I noticed that if you’re a hard, hard truth, it’d be a hard delivery of a hard discussion of a hard content, you’re really focused on content only. If you’re kind, kind truth people, you’re sugarcoating the good stuff, that you’re focused on the connection only. But kind, hard truth leaders focus on maintaining connection while delivering the content. And so, I was wondering how you’ve seen this working out in reality of delivering tough messages to people that you care about, and you want to see grow, but you still have to have the straight talk.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. John’s principles talks about care and candor and this is what you’re going through with us right here. And I think, absolutely, you have to have the foundation of the connection first. I think if it is there ahead of time, I think the conversations go a lot smoother. I think if it’s not there, you need to work on getting that, connecting with them, as part of this conversation. Also makes me think about, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. It’s part of that whole process that we need to be thinking about. And you’ve got to connect with them first. And so, you got to ask yourself the tough questions. Have you done the hard work of building connections with them? Or are you distanced from them? Receiving difficult messages from people, in my past and from leaders, is always easier when it’s from … May not be easy. It’s easier when it comes from someone that cares for you or has connected with you versus just someone that’s just your boss.

And so think about that, you put the shoe on the other foot, and how you’ve received that and how you’ve heard it, and then think about how you want to deliver it. The other thing we’ve talked about here is, the whole intent versus perception gap. This is a great way to have that conversation by using, “Hey, I know your intent was not to do this, but my perception is that, can we have that conversation?” That word intent shows that you’re connecting with them. Hey, I know you’re intent was not. It might’ve been their intent, maybe, but at least if you start that way, it’s a connection comment more than anything. So number four, what is more important than who. What is more important than who.

Perry Holley:    Yeah. When you deliver the hard truth, you maintain a kind approach by not judging or condemning the person. What we’re talking about is more important than who, it cannot become that way, so we want to maintain that kind approach. And keep judgment. I think what I’m getting at there is that, you’re judging someone and looking down on them or thinking that they’ve done bad.

Chris Goede:     You’re talking about the what, right? You’re not talking about … So Perry, just to use you as an example, Perry did X. Well, hey, let’s confront the X, not necessarily Perry personally. We’re confronting the X, the actual what versus the who, and I think that’s valid. Because often we get all worked up in having a conversation and we think it’s necessarily about Perry, it’s really about the X.

Perry Holley:    Yeah. What you did may have caused a problem, you’re not the problem.

Chris Goede:     That’s right. That’s right.Perry Holley:    And maybe he said, “Hate the sin, not the sinner.” So you want to make sure that we know what it is we’re talking about. Which leads to number five, which is, can you preserve dignity while being direct? And you don’t ever want someone to leave a direct conversation with you feeling disrespected or even the word right now, we’ve been talking a lot about some of our coaching, about shame. That you shame someone in a direct conversation. That’s never going to be a good thing.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. It makes me think about this phrase of, do right versus being right. Are you coming into this conversation where you’re just focused on being right? Or do you want to do it the right way? And I think if you have that mindset going into these conversations, it’ll really help you focus on resolving the issues. We were talking about, just a minute ago, resolving the X. Not necessarily letting Perry know how right I am, that X was the wrong thing to be doing.

Perry Holley:    It’s also a good marriage trick. Don’t focus on being right and winning.

Chris Goede:     That’s exactly tight. That’s exactly right.

Perry Holley:    Well I think, leaders, that you just cannot avoid these conversations, the tough conversations, with people. Feedback or performance or expectations, they have to be dealt with. But they can be done in a way that delivers the kind, hard truth. And like you said earlier, clear is kind, and we want to be clear and let that people know that they’re valued, but we do have standards and expectations that we’re going to hold to. Why don’t you wrap it up for us?

Chris Goede:     Listen, however you need to think about this, where you’re at in your leadership journey. Whether it’s the way that Perry grew up with this kind, hard truth. Whether it’s care and candor. I think I even heard another thought leader say, “Make sure you do the hard, easy versus the easy, hard.” Have the clear expectations, set the hard conversations upfront, so then it’s easy when it comes to having to confront and you guys can talk about X and you’ve already done all that. The other thing I want to encourage you is, I saw this quote. I was reading an article the other day that said, “Never cut what you can untie.”

Perry Holley:    That’s good.

Chris Goede:     And I thought, wow, man, how many times as leaders we get frustrated, or we want to have a tough conversation, or we need to have a tough conversation and we feel like we just got to go in and cut it. Whatever cut it might mean in your world. Whether it’s the individual, whether it’s the project, whether it’s KPI, whatever it might be. Versus, as leaders, should we go in and look for ways to tie what’s going on and really get back to the root of beginning to then have to tie it again and have those conversations. And so, man, just make sure … There’s so many good principles in Perry’s lesson today that we talked about, really even just from connection to communication, and being able to do it from intent versus perception. All these things, just man, I guess my takeaway for you is just to grab a nugget or two and go have that conversation.

Another one was, don’t wait to have the conversation. We talked a little bit about this. You need to be having this. And so, I just would encourage you to think about that, go about it the right way, make sure that you’re doing it the right way versus just trying to be right in a situation and work through that. And I would promise you, there are multiple leaders that are in your network or you are connected with, they’re having the same one. Talk to them about how they’re doing it. Talk to them about what you’re learning and how to have it. Begin having that conversation because we all struggle with this in one way or another.

Perry Holley:    Just as you’re talking, I’m thinking about being a level five leader one day. Or someone calls you a level five, you can’t call yourself that. When someone sees you as a level five leader, probably you told them something that probably nobody else would have told them. And you helped them in a way that maybe a lot of people avoided because it might’ve been hard.

Chris Goede:     Absolutely.

Perry Holley:    Great stuff, Chris, thank you. As a reminder, there’s a learner guide for this episode, as well as information about the 5 Levels of Leadership and the workshops that we offer at You can also leave a comment or a question for us there, we always love hearing from you. And we’re always grateful that you would spend this time with us each week. That’s all today from the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

Be the first to comment on "Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #149: Leader Skill: How to Deliver the Kind-Hard Truth"

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *