If you actually have the courage to say what you mean, mean what you say, and stand up for your principles, even when that flies in the face of prevailing cultural norms, will it ever come back to haunt you someday?

I really couldn’t say, but if that ever happens to me, you’ll be the first to know.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve shot myself in the foot more times than I care to remember. After all, nobody’s perfect, least of all me. But personality disorders and dysfunctions aside, being genuine and speaking my mind have served me well. I highly recommend it, with certain caveats.

Being comfortable in your own skin and having the courage to be you is a way of being, not a reason for being or raison d’etre, as they say. It’s a way of behaving, not your purpose on Earth. There are higher priorities.

Building your career, relationships and reputation. Growing your business. Being the very best at your job. Finding a purpose so you love what you do and find fulfillment in your work. As long as you don’t compromise your principles to achieve them, those are your priorities, at least from a work standpoint.

I’m not saying you can’t be great at your job while being direct, but there are nuances to keep in mind. For example, I ran marketing and corporate communications for public companies. There were SEC rules of disclosure to follow. Customer commitments and confidentiality to keep. The occasional diplomacy in negotiations. That sort of thing.

Internally, I never held back on my opinion, sugarcoated the truth, told people what I thought they wanted to hear, or kowtowed to anyone. Ever. And I don’t suppose I ever will. But I didn’t run around spouting off about my a-hole CEO, either. I always knew my job was to compliment his weaknesses, not dig his grave and jump in with him.

Besides, when you’re in the business of making decisions and giving advice that affect lots of people’s livelihoods and investment portfolios, those responsibilities always outweigh your personal beliefs. But then, I’ve never found being genuine and direct to conflict with that purpose. As long as you have a little common sense, that is. It also helps if you’re right most of the time.

What got me started on this is the way everyone’s whining about Donald Trump’s rhetoric. That he can’t be president because he’s bombastic, he offends people, and his ideas are impractical, over-the-top, yada yada.

Personally, I think it comes down to his decision-making, not his speech. There are risks and unknowns there, that’s for sure. But in terms of his speech, he’s probably saying what at least half of us are thinking or saying in the privacy of our own homes. He just has the cajones to say it publicly. Kudos for that.

There’s also something to be said for honesty as a way of life. Sam Clemens, aka Mark Twain, said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” It is a far better and simpler way to live, that’s for sure.

And by the way. You’ve all been very quiet lately. Too quiet. How about a little whit and wisdom in the comment section just to let us know you’re still with us? Just do us all a favor and be straightforward about it. I suspect we’ve all had more than enough political correctness and utopian nonsense to last a lifetime.

  • Kenny Kupchik

    Steve, I’m a new reader of your blog, and I really like your refreshing and honest take, especially calling out the b.s. that every “expert” on social media now spouts. That being said, it was funny that you complimented Trump for saying what he was feeling and in the next paragraph quoted Mark Twain about liars. Trump lies more than anyone I’ve ever seen without repercussions, and worse yet, he believes idiotic nonsense that he gets from fringe sources. Obviously ripping into him is pointless since any person with a brain can see that he’s a megalomaniacal simpleton, but it would be nice if YOU (someone I am starting to trust) didn’t hold him up as the some sort of aspirational figure.

  • M.S.

    Hi Steve. Do you feel this advice can be applied in the same way to women as to men? From my reading and experience, the answer is “no”. At the same time, as a woman, I find it’s hard to not speak my mind, which doesn’t usually go over well in the big, corporate, slightly-old-fashioned workplace I’m in now. (So perhaps both gender *and* culture are factors….) Your thoughts?

    • Steve Tobak

      Great question. That’s why there’s a great big caveat in the post: you have to be practical, have a little common sense, and use your best judgement. Just as there is no generic person to give advice to, there is no generic corporate world. Every individual and company is different. If I tell you to speak your mind, how do I know you’re not a raging lunatic? I know you’re not, but I’m just trying to make a point. And yes, you’re right, there are unfortunate cultural nuances for women, but they’re slowly eroding. Use your judgement. Trial and error works incredibly well. All that said, my bias is to say don’t be afraid to ruffle some feathers.

  • Tom

    You are not being ignored. Each post is read as soon as available. By the way, is your dog healthy again?

    • Steve Tobak

      I just like hearing from you guys. The dog has an autoimmune disorder that’s attacking her red blood cells. She’s now on immunosuppressive drugs; we’ll see how she responds. So far, so good. She’s definitely happy to be home. Thanks!

  • Stephen

    In the healthcare/hospital system the person kissing ass the best gets promoted. I am a long time entrepreneur and employer of 100+ people. I sold my medical practice and joined a large hospital system. I believed that I would be a model employee. I always diplomatically (at least I thought) spoke my mind. I truly thought mid level and upper level management wanted to hear this. Upper level management seemed to listen but delegated to mid level management. Absolute worst because it made mid level management look bad. The rest of the staff just followed orders and never spoke up. I tried a different medical provider in a different part of the country. Same results. Employees never spoke up and mid level management got promoted. In the healthcare world this is dangerous. I am now back on the entrepreneur pathway. When I speak to decision makers they value this honesty. Sorry for the long post. I read your articles and have never commented.

    • Steve Tobak

      Indeed, the healthcare industry is highly bureaucratic, as I suspect most heavily regulated industries are. The problem is there isn’t much competition, so the bias is toward the status quo, not meritocracy. They typically give lip service to advice for improvement but nothing ever changes. The same is true of educational institutions, most nonprofits, etc. Kudos for going back to the entrepreneurial route.

  • Pierre Monteil

    Hi Steve,
    We keep on reading – no worries ;-).
    but running short of time for commenting…

  • GoneWithTheWind

    I have read a lot of your articles. They are very informative and awesome not just because they are very well written but they are all very logical. I have a Computer Science and Math degree so anything has to do with logic perks me up.

    I am a woman but I find myself saying this a lot, “I was man about it.” I live in the San Francisco bay area and as you know, this city is as liberal as they come. We live in a city that bans soda and legalizes pot. This is a city that ignores stories like an illegal immigrant who was deported five times was able to get a hold of a gun, walked around the Pier and killed a 32-year-old girl in broad daylight.

    I own a tax firm (writing you now give me a sense of relief now after dealing with tax clients, silly ones). I live by “say what you mean, mean what you say” every day. It doesn’t always work well with our clients especially our female clients. Some of our female clients interpret being direct and genuine as being “over-the-top” and “mean.”

    We as a firm resonate with Donald Trump in every aspect. Ever since he announced, we haven’t gone a day without having him in our conversations. What he has been saying about our world, our society and our government reflect a lot about what we have been dealing with all day every day. The waste, abuse and fraud in our tax program. The incompetency and the entitlements of our everyday citizens. I have a lot of respect for Donald Trump
    for his work ethic, his willing to speak the truth and his authenticity. I can assure you he will have my vote on June 7 for the California primary.

    • Steve Tobak

      Yup, I have a thing for logic. Common sense, too. Too little of both these days. You sound just like my wife, who also has a math degree, feels pretty alienated in the Bay Area, and shares your views. I bet the two of you would have a lot to talk about. 😉 As an opinion columnist, I don’t formally back any particular candidate, but I suspect you already know what I stand for. The federal government is broken. We need to fix it. I see this as a critical election. We might not survive more of the same.

      • GoneWithTheWind

        You and your wife have shockingly similar values with my husband and I. If we ever meet one day you will be even more shocked to find out our backgrounds. You, as an opinion columnist, is wise to stay away who you support as candidate. But your stand, your principles and your moral values give me a pretty good idea. My husband and I own a small tax firm in the bay area. We constantly have to refrain ourselves from talking remotely touchy political subjects because our views are so diametrically opposed to the views in this area. It shouldn’t be this way but we in the US have become so liberal
        that if we disagree, we are wrong. Some people don’t like Trump, I get it. But we all have to agree one thing, he got a pair and I think in the world we live in more than ever before, we can’t have anyone that doesn’t have a pair physically(LOL!) and mentally.

  • I googled “being direct and shooting myself in the foot” and this came up. I recently started working for a Not for profit working alongside a board that does not have a passion for the cause. I spoke directly to one of them and basically said Why are you hear and what do you bring to this organisation. I shot myself in the foot and now they are working towards “moving me on” however the charity is going great guns and we hold our passion. This article confirmed to me that yes I am direct, I grew balls and there is nothing wrong in aligning our passions