Recently, Mike Arrington had a great post about Brutal Honesty.
It got me thinking.
As in, being direct with folks in delivering good news and bad. In conveying thought-through but sometimes painful opinion in the interest of, say, advising an entrepreneur. Or contributing value around a start-up’s Board table. Or a Partner Meeting table.
I’ve been accused of being nothing if not direct. Besides genetics, my inclination has always been to deliver news and thoughts as directly as possible. Mainly because that’s the way I best respond to data. And it was the way I preferred to get input from advisors and Board members when I was on the other side of the table.
VCs tend to give a lot of indirect reasons for turning down an entrepreneur. All of them, in the end, tend to turn the entrepreneur against the VC in question, and at times, against our trade itself.
Explanations like, “I can’t get my partners to get their heads around your opportunity”, “I support you but my partners are not there”, “your opportunity is too early“ , or “you are doing a great job “ (when in fact that same Board member drones on about his many elements of management dissatisfaction in non-executive sessions). Few are willing to give straight-up input. Hard-to-deliver — but in the best interests of the common good. It’s easy to be a cheerleader. It takes effort to help.
Like the effort somebody should have exercised with Brian Wilson before he picked out this outfit for this year’s ESPYs.
Some VCs and other directors also tend to present good-intended advice. But do so by talking about themselves and their experiences. Again. And again.
Though it might be well-intended, the message — if there is one — gets buried in the narcissism. But better buried than dismissed, as when an (often inexperienced) investor or Board Observer without operating history gives an entrepreneur “straight talk” on what they are doing wrong or what is wrong with their business. Without constructive examples, specific advice, first-hand perspective nor empathy. None of which is lost on management.
Bad news, good news, incomplete news, partially-digested news — all are best delivered straight-up. And early. With specifics, guidance & recommedations.
In the end, you’ve got to trust that being direct is both appreciated & respected. Certainly offered with the common good front of mind & purpose.
But straight-up feedback many times, though is a pretty unpopular concept.
Sometimes it just takes time for a message to be fully appreciated.