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Today’s blog brings us to the final stop on the Road to Twelve and a Half series. So far, we’ve covered twelve of the traits that have helped me build a successful career and a happy life. The final trait — kind candor — is a little bit different. 

While it’s technically the thirteenth ingredient, I named the book Twelve and a Half for a reason. Out of all the traits I included, kind candor is the one I’m still working to develop…it’s a “half” because it’s a vulnerability, or the biggest weakness among my strengths. Unlike some other traits like gratitude and tenacity which were a major part of my DNA growing up, kind candor doesn’t come as naturally to me. In fact, I’m still learning to deploy it in life and business every day. 

I really believe that Twelve and a Half has the potential to help so many people be better leaders, bosses, parents, older siblings and overall human beings. That being said, it was important for me to hold myself accountable by sharing the trait that I myself am still working on. I hope both this blog and the book as a whole inspire you to take a look within and identify your own “halves.” 

Now, let’s explore kind candor a little deeper. 

What is Kind Candor? 


We all know what it means to be kind, but feel free to check out this blog on why I think kindness is the ultimate strength. Before we can understand kind candor, however, we first need to define the second term in the phrase. 

The quality of being open and honest in expression; frankness.

I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt, my core weakness in 25 years of business has been a lack of candor. To some of you, I’m sure that comes as a surprise. Let me explain. 

A lot of people see my content and my communication style and assume that candor comes easily to me. They see me ranting about the latest social media platform or strategy and they might think I’m just a know-it-all who always tells it like he sees it. The truth is that there’s a difference between “Garyvee” the brand and Gary Vaynerchuk the manager and operator. The first is good at candor; the second has struggled.

It’s easy to deploy candor when I’m on video, recording a podcast, or on stage addressing hundreds or thousands of people. It’s much harder when I’m sitting down one-on-one with an employee that I really care about, having a difficult conversation. 

My relationship with candor 

I decided early on that I didn’t want to run my businesses on fear…in fact, creating fear in my companies became my greatest fear.

I had a visceral reaction to candor and confrontation for a long time because I thought it scared people; I thought they couldn’t handle it. My inability to separate being candid from being mean or nasty then led me to make a ton of decisions that negatively impacted me and those around me. My lack of candor caused me to withhold critical feedback and build resentment toward several employees which ultimately led to me surprise-firing people once I finally got fed up. 

Basically, my inability to deploy candor when necessary was not sustainable for my success or the success and happiness of my employees…until I woke up. 

Rebranding candor 

Four or five years ago, I finally woke up and realized that I was actually making my biggest fear come true. Instead of eliminating fear, my lack of candor was creating a ton of fear at VaynerMedia because people didn’t know where they stood. I realized that if I truly wanted to maintain the “honey empire” I created for my companies, I had to find a way to address this vulnerability.

So, what is kind candor? It’s a hybrid term I created to rebrand the idea of candor for myself, and hopefully for leaders everywhere. By adding kindness to candor, we can become better operators and leaders, we’ll have more secure, accountable employees, and companies will be much healthier, happier places to work. 


Finding the Right Balance

Today, I think kind candor is a much better target to aim for. The problem is, a lot of people use “honesty” as an excuse to be jerks. They call it being blatantly honest or being a “straight-shooter,” when in reality, far too many leaders are actually poisoning their workplace cultures with negativity.

That’s where kind candor comes in. Watch this video twice to understand:

The truth is that running a team or company with fear will work…but it’s not the best or most practical approach long-term. Too many people are greatly underestimating the power of kindness. Why? I think it’s because people have this idea that being nice somehow makes you weak. They’re afraid that if they don’t bring down the hammer, people won’t respect them or they’ll get taken advantage of. I want to change that idea. 

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Candor is not an excuse not to be nice…and being nice doesn’t prevent you from being an effective leader. Just like you can be patient and ambitious, or have both great humility and great conviction, you can be both honest and kind. The trick is in finding the right balance. 

Too much kindness 

With all twelve emotional ingredients, it takes balance to make your meal. My problem was that I used to be all kindness and no candor.

“I realized that kindness without candor was creating entitlement within my organization. By giving positive reinforcement again and again without critical feedback, I created delusion, which lead to entitlement.” – Twelve and a Half: Leveraging the Emotional Ingredients Necessary for Business Success

The problem with this approach is that it’s not sustainable. As a leader, when you’re too kind and you struggle with being candid about mistakes or room for improvement, you start to build a resentment toward the people who work for you. Sometimes that resentment is subconscious, sometimes it’s conscious, but either way, it’s toxic. Mistakes continue to be made and employees can fall into a trap of complacency because there’s a lack of candor from you and a lack of accountability from themselves. 

Too much candor

On the other hand, just telling your employees that they suck is cruel. Have you taken the time to understand the context behind the mistake that was made? Have you been curious and empathetic to what might be going on in their lives that’s affecting their performance, or are you just rushing to judgment with zero information? Too much candor without kindness only creates more problems. When you come in too “hot” with your criticism, the person on the other end is only gonna react “hot” in return. 

How You Deliver the Medicine Matters

Kindness 🤝 Candor. It’s not about either-or, it’s about “and.” You should be able to speak candidly with your employees about performance, but you should also be able to do so without humiliation or aggression. Just like you have expectations of them, they have to be able to expect a safe culture and environment when they come to work every day. 

“There’s a reason why I added the word kind in front of candor. How you deliver the medicine matters.” – Twelve and a Half: Leveraging the Emotional Ingredients Necessary for Business Success

Just like a good doctor has good bedside manner, a good leader knows how to handle hard conversations with care. Compassionate communication heals everything, and it’s when you’re the most upset that you actually have to deploy the most kindness and compassion to the person on the other side.

Key Ingredient

As a leader, finding that balance between kindness and candor is a really important play, and it’s something that I’ve stood up recently in my own life and within VaynerX. The last 18-24 months, my kind candor game has gone from about a ten out of 100 to maybe a sixty…but that fifty point jump has been monumental in my success. 

Don’t get me wrong, the work is far from over. For me and for all of you reading, working on these “halves” takes real time and dedication. So, please, remember to be patient with yourself as you explore these traits and figure out which ones you have to work on. 

Thank you for reading. Whether you’ve followed along for the whole Road to Twelve and a Half series, bought the book, or received a copy for free, I am so excited to have you here and so grateful to get this message out into the world. Please don’t forget to tweet me @garyvee to share your thoughts!