Manage Smarter 87 — Jan Allen: Being an Honest Broker of Information

BY Audrey Strong
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Jan Allen is an Executive Coach and Life Strategist, as well as co-​managing partner of Business of People. Jan is hired by people restless for their next level of success and ready to tackle whatever is in the way.

In addition to serving in an executive role for two Ohio governors, Jan launched and led successful public affairs and public relations businesses. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science, a master’s degree in social work, and a juris doctor from the Moritz College of Law, all from The Ohio State University, and is a graduate of the Gestalt Institute of Central Ohio’s three-​year post-​graduate training for therapists, and Coach U.

In this episode, Audrey, Lee and Jan discuss being an honest broker along with:


  • The concept of an Honest Broker and it's value
  • Why YOU as a leader want to vet and make sure your critical staffers are Honest Brokers
  • How the concept is critical to being a better leader
  • Tips for building team relationships vs. discipline
  • How Jan learned the value of being an honest broker as staff within two Ohio Governor’s Offices



"We’re human so we’re always going to tell stories from our own point of view but if we’re really going to deal sort of the most directly and honestly in the business and not try to manage information to get the outcome that we want then we need to be honest brokers"

- Jan Allen

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Manage Smarter 87 — Jan Allen- Being an Honest Broker of Information


This episode of Manage Smarter is presented by SalesFuel Consulting, leading experts for assessing and transforming management, sales, culture, and team performance. Learn more at SalesFuel​.com. 

Welcome to the Manage Smarter Podcast, with host C. Lee Smith and Audrey Strong. We're glad you're here for discussions on new ways to manage smarter, hire, develop, and retain talent, improve results, and propel team performance to new heights. This is the Manage Smarter Podcast.

Audrey Strong: What does being an honest broker really mean, Lee? I mean, you know the definition and you've used it in your leadership skills, correct?

C. Lee Smith: I do, because I learned it from Allen.

Audrey Strong: Jan?.

C. Lee Smith: That's right. 

Audrey Strong: Jan Allen.

C. Lee Smith: Jan Allen, that's right.

Audrey Strong: Well, that's what we're going to talk about today with Jan. Welcome to the Manage Smarter Podcast, everyone. I'm Audrey Strong. I'm the vice president of communications here at SalesFuel.

C. Lee Smith: And I'm C. Lee Smith. I'm the president and CEO of SalesFuel. 

Audrey Strong: And if you're not impressed by Jan Allen, then I don't know what to tell you. I mean, hi Jan, thanks for coming to the microphones.

Jan Allen: Hi, hello Audrey and Lee, and everyone who's listening. 

Audrey Strong: This is great. So, everybody, Jan Allen is an executive coach and life strategist and the co-​managing partner of Business of People, that's businessofpeople​.net. Jan is hired by people restless for the next level of success and ready to tackle whatever is in the way. In addition to serving in an executive role for two Ohio governors, Jan launched and led successful public affairs and public relations businesses. She's got a bachelor's degree in poli sci, master's degree in social work, and a JD from the Moritz College of Law, all from the Ohio State University, and is a graduate of the Gestalt Institute of Central Ohio's three-​year postgraduate training for therapists and coach you. This woman is the authority in all things coaching. So Jan, welcome.

Jan Allen: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here. 

C. Lee Smith: So, I'd like to dive in a little bit more because this concept of being an honest broker is something that I think that everybody could benefit from, every manager that reports to leadership. And for that matter, every person that reports to management, I think, really subscribe to the concept of being an honest broker. Tell us more about that.

Jan Allen: Yes. Lee, I think you're absolutely right about that. The idea of being an honest broker is that whenever we're going to take information anywhere in the business, it's important that we not put just our slant on that. Now, we're human and so we're always going to tell stories somewhat from our own point of view. But if we're really going to deal sort of the most directly and honestly in the business, and not try to manage information to get the outcome that we want, then we need to be honest brokers. I first really learned about this at a very young age. I was deputy chief of staff in the governor's office, and I had spent 10 years helping this person get elected governor, and he had spent 10 years helping me grow up, I like to think of it that way, because I was in my twenties when I first met him. 

C. Lee Smith: This is the State of Ohio, right? 

Jan Allen: This is the State of Ohio. And I did a whole lot of things wrong, Lee and Audrey, in those days. But one of the things I recognized early on was that I had a lot of sway. First of all, I had access to the governor, our offices were attached, and a lot of information came through me. And so I really recognized early on that that was a very privileged position, and that I had to check myself to be sure that I was being an honest broker with any information. So, any recommendation I made to him, even for decisions, to the best of my ability, I let him know who was on the other side and why. I let know what the media fallout might be. I let them know the positives and the negatives. And I made a cogent argument for my own position, but I never withheld information or tried to slant it. At least I didn't intentionally do that, or tried to slant it to get the result that I wanted. So that's what I mean by being an honest broker.

C. Lee Smith: And as a CEO, I rely on people like Audrey and those people that report to me that when they're sharing information with me, that I don't have to go and verify it with two or three other people because I know that what they're giving to me is honest to the best of their knowledge. And that even though it may not support Audrey's agenda — a point of view shouldn’t really have an agenda, but — that she's going to share it with me anyway. It's that level of trust. And for me, so if you're not honest broker, then I don't have that level of trust that I need to have you advising me, was that your experience with the governor?

Jan Allen: Oh, absolutely. And the second time I was in the governor's office a couple of decades later, there was actually an important person in our administration, very smart person, who actually did manage information to get a certain result. I won't go into detail, but it bit us in the bottom. Now I will say this about where any leader sits, because as I said, even those of us who want to be honest brokers do to the best of our ability, we still bring our own frame of reference and maybe our own baggage even to whatever we're reporting. So it's really important for a leader to get to organizational truth. For example, Lee, I assume you've had people come to you saying so and so did such and such, and you go act on that and find out, oh, that wasn't the whole story. Am I right? 

C. Lee Smith: I've done it a few years ago, and then I've learned to verify stuff, yeah.

Jan Allen: Yes. So it's really important for a leader, and especially new managers, but I've even seen experienced managers make this mistake, to remember the concept of getting to organizational truth. So yes, you want to hear it from that person's point of view, that has validity. But you want to hear it from several other people's points of view, too, so you can put that all together and, to the best of your ability, try to get to organizational truth.

C. Lee Smith: So is organizational truth different? I mean, are you suggesting perhaps that each individual person has their own truth, and the organizational truth is the collective of that? Or am I misunderstanding what you're saying here?

Jan Allen: That's exactly right. It might not be a perfect collective. As you sift through it you may give more weight to one story or another. But even back in my early days with the governor, he would come back from his many travels and say, "A constituent said we did such and such. Why do we do it that way?" And I finally said to him, "Could you ask us first if we did it before you assume?" And so that's another way of getting at organizational truth. Got to check out first, don't just jump to solve it based on hearing it from one person. Although to your point, Lee, if you know the person's really an honest broker and you can trust that, then you can probably go ahead and act safely. 

Audrey Strong: I'd love to hear like, kind of a simple Simon example for people who aren't familiar with the concept of a non honest broker, what is a simple scenario or example where this occurs and what can the repercussions be of an interaction with somebody who's putting their own spin on it, and you accepting that and then acting on it?

C. Lee Smith: You change the names to protect the guilty. 

Audrey Strong: Yes.

Jan Allen: Well, oh my goodness. I mean, the scenarios are infinite, and I should say that some people are inadvertent, dishonest brokers. Because if I'm not really self-​aware and I'm not — this is why I think leaders have to actually teach and share this concept and make it an expectation of being on your team. Because otherwise, I think people at an unaware level can tell the story in their way without really realizing they're managing it to an outcome. Does that make some sense? 

Audrey Strong: Mm-hmm.

Jan Allen: There can be malicious people. The person I was speaking about, I think — I don't know if it's malice, but I think it was intentional that this person had a lot of information, didn't share it all because they wanted the outcome they wanted. And so I'm actually not going to get into the specifics of some of those situations. 

Audrey Strong: Okay. Sounds pretty diabolical, though. 

C. Lee Smith: Yeah. Well, I mean, do you think that — I don't want to get super political here, but do you think that people still subscribe — the person in your position today, governor of any state in union or any country around in the world, do they subscribe to the concept of being an honest broker, you think? Or are they more along the lines of they want to try to shade information to fill an agenda these days?

Jan Allen: Well, not having done a survey of that but knowing human nature, I would say that a lot of people get into positions of power to push their own agenda.

C. Lee Smith: That's interesting. So it requires a great deal of discipline, it sounds like, to actually carry this through.

Jan Allen: Yes, it does. But I do think it can be helped by the leader expecting it, and maybe even saying, "I want to hear your argument, but I also want to hear if there are counter arguments. So I want to know what the downsides are as well as the upsides. I want all the information, not just some of the information." So I think you can help people learn to do this, because I think honestly, most people would want to do this the right way. They just haven't particularly thought about it.

Audrey Strong: Yeah. You say a lot of people come out of the execution kind of worker bee side of it, and they're never taught how to lead. And certainly this concept is one of those concepts. What are some of the other ones?

Jan Allen: What are you specifically asking me, Audrey? 

Audrey Strong: Well, beyond being an honest broker, what are some of the other leadership concepts that you train people up who are trying to improve their leadership capabilities? 

Jan Allen: Well, and especially with, I'll say with managers, this is true at every level though, but the thing that I see happen most often with managers who've been workers and now they're managing, they don't realize a couple of things. They don't realize that it's also their responsibility to not just drive the work but to develop their people. And that's a skill that has to be learned and taught and learned and practiced. They also, in addition, don't realize that it's their job to continually improve the managed group as a group. 

The other thing I've seen happen with managers in particular is that because they don't know anything about developing people, is that anytime they have a problem, they tend to resort to whatever the company policy is about write-​ups. Instead of trying to have a serious conversation, help the person resolve it, get better, learn to grow, maybe it was just a mistake, they resort to discipline right away. M many, many problems can be solved by developing the person, not disciplining the person. But we fail in most organizations to teach leaders that, and even as people move up the ladder, to director, to vice president, they may not know how to do it. Those skills have to be taught.

C. Lee Smith: Of all the people that come through your doors, of Business of People, what's one or two common trends that you see in leaders that are struggling? They come to you, they want to get better, people like me, for example, and they really feel like they have a need to do it but they just don't know how to do it, what personality traits or what things do you typically see them doing it, getting in their own way?

Jan Allen: Well, that's a hard question to answer generally because there can be a variety of presenting issues, but it kind of goes with our name. Almost every presenting issue that comes through our door has to do with what I call the messy business of people. They may be really great at driving the substance of the company, the technical sides of the company, but they're often baffled by the people issues.

C. Lee Smith: So the soft skills part of it?

Jan Allen: The soft skills, absolutely. Whether that's how to have daily conversations, how to lean in and successfully resolve conflict, how to really stay truly in connection with people day-​to-​day and in conversations, as I said, how to develop people. I don't know if I were to ask you, Lee, are you confronted more by the substantive challenges of your business or the people issues? What would you say?

C. Lee Smith: That's easy. It's the people issues, hands down. It's like substances part, I was like, I've got that. I mean, it's like, yeah, but the people part because everybody's different and everybody has their own little idiosyncrasies, and then you have people that are different from day-​to-​day, the same people. 

Jan Allen: Absolutely. 

C. Lee Smith: And it's like — and so, as you say, it's like your company is the business of people, and the business of people is messy. 

Jan Allen: It is. And so there are skills to learn about how to truly remain in connection with people, because everything happens in business on two levels—the level of content, the work, the work itself, and then what, what I call the what, and then there's how we do what we do. And all of our work is in teaching the folks how. How to do it so that people can stay open, can really get things done together. As  you know, a workplace is a challenging environment. We have to have difficult conversations. We have to do hard things. Yes, we have things we can celebrate, but it's just constant interaction. And we don't teach people much about how to do that and how to do it successfully. 

C. Lee Smith: Yeah. I think that conflict part you just mentioned is something that I see quite frequently. I see some people want to try to shy away from conflict and avoid it, and I see other people want to charge right at it or whatever like a bull in a China shop, and don't bring the proper level of warmth and support, that was me a few years ago. I think when it comes to personality conflicts and people conflicts, yeah, I think you could err on both sides of that one.

Jan Allen: Yes, you can. And we generally try to resolve conflict by if I'm in conflict with you, I try to resolve it by proving to you that I'm right. Resolving conflict isn't really about each person pointing the finger at the other. If you're truly going to resolve it, I need to look at myself first and what I could have done differently, and make some effort to appreciate where the other person is coming from. It's never really about the facts. Usually if there's conflict, there's some level of emotion, I would say, in the conflict. And if we can just acknowledge the feelings of the other, look at what we could have done differently, then each person will start to look at, "Well, wait a minute. I could have — you know, I jumped in and said something too harsh. I shouldn't have done that. I just really felt strongly about that point, but next time I'll tone it down." Then the other person will start to look at themselves. So you're right, we either — although I think it's more the former, I think we avoid resolving conflict more than we charge in.

C. Lee Smith: And that leads to sideways conversations, which is even more damaging because we don't have the guts to say it to people face-​to-​face. And now with the internet and texting and everything like that, it's another way that we can be indirect with our conversation rather than direct. One of the things I've learned is like sometimes you stop texting, stop emailing or whatever, just go down to the person's office, go face-​to-​face, or pull them up on a video chat or something like that, so at least that way you can read their facial expressions and how they're taking the information they can see, how you're meeting the information, they can hear the voice inflection. Just the communication is so much better that way, when you're dealing with a messy people issue and they try to do it by text. That's one of the things I've learned starting with you guys, but then I've had others teach, kind of, reinforce that message over the years as well.

Jan Allen: Amen.

Audrey Strong: And I do think the emotions enter into it, because the one thing that popped in my head, Jan, as you were talking was I've heard that phrase, would you rather be right or would you rather be happy? 

Jan Allen: Yes, for sure. 

Audrey Strong: If you want to die on that hill and be mad at this person in perpetuity, you go right ahead and have fun with that.

Jan Allen: But to Lee's point, too, sideways conversations have become epidemic with technology change, because it's so much easier to hide out on text than it is — and to say anything that we wouldn't say or wouldn't have said it that way if we were saying it face-​to-​face. And of course, text and email can be completely misinterpreted, because I may read into something that you didn't intend at all. I bring my own framework  to the reading of that.

C. Lee Smith: And you always coach people then to always go into it by assuming positive intent. And it's that's extremely, I think, important when you're reading something in text.

Jan Allen: Absolutely. Assume positive intent. If you have any concerns or questions, walk down the hall or pick up the phone to your point. 

Audrey Strong: That's great advice. We've got a few minutes left. Do you want to talk about your individual coaching practice for those of you that are listening that would like to engage with Jan?

Jan Allen: Well, thank you, Audrey. As you mentioned in my intro, I coach a whole variety of people who their commonality is their restless for some next level of success and they're ready to tackle whatever is in the way. I'm industry agnostic. I work across all kinds of industries with people in business of all ages. I coach in the c‑suite and entrepreneurs, but I also coach people who are entering their careers and kind of everything in between. What I love to do is work with people who really want to drive their own development and who will really do the work in coaching, because coaching, unlike some professions, is a partnership. The coaching partner will derive much more from it if they're willing to put in the time and effort and do the work. And so I'm really happy to coach with anyone who's willing to do that.

Audrey Strong: Well, that sounds terrific. Everybody, reach out to Jan through businessofpeople​.net. Jan, it's such a pleasure talking to you. Thanks for your great advice and tips today.

Jan Allen: Thank you, and it's a pleasure to be with you. SalesFuel is a company I really admire the work that you do, and keep on.

C. Lee Smith: Well, thank you. And everyone there has been so incredibly helpful to us and continues to be helpful to us in helping us grow and achieve more and handle the squishier side of the business and try to excel in that. You're a hell of a teacher and a great friend. We're so pleased to have you on today.

Jan Allen: Thank you so much.

Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed the show, please rate and recommend on iTunes, Overcast or wherever you get your podcast. You can also get more great information at SalesFuel​.com.

This podcast on being an honest broker is a part of the C‑Suite Radio Network. For more top business podcasts, visit c‑