Courage to Confront the Current Business Reality
Martin Luther King eloquently shared his “I have a Dream” speech and inspired all of us to not just focus on what is possible but also the current harsh reality of racism in the 1960s in the United States.
Peter Senge, the noted management and leadership scholar coined the phrase, creative tension, to inspire all of us to focus simultaneously on both our vision and our current business reality. He said that if we only focus on vision, others could consider us to be too optimistic and naïve. Dr. Senge said if we, however, only focus on our current reality, we could become discouraged and doubtful of ever achieving our vision and goals. How does this affect our current business reality?
Dr. Senge encourages us to focus on both; our vision for what is possible for our teams and our organizations as well as simultaneously focusing on the current business reality so we are not in denial or delusional.
Jim Collins, in his book, Good to Great, writes about a conversation he had with US Navy Vice Admiral and aviator, James Bond “Jim” Stockdale who shot down over Vietnam in 1965 and was a prisoner of war for the next 7.5 years. In this discussion, Collins asked Stockdale about his coping strategy during this period of captivity. Stockdale reported, “I never lost faith in the end of this story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”
When Collins asked Stockdale who did not make it out of Vietnam, Stockdale replied, “Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, “We’re going to be out by Christmas.” And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. They they’d say, “We’re going to be out by Easter.” And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.” Stockdale then added, “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end-which can never afford to lose-with the discipline to confront the brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.
Witnessing this philosophy of duality, Jim Collins went on to describe it as the Stockdale Paradox.
I’ve seen leaders who lack the courage to confront the current business reality. Sometimes they don’t want to deal with the harsh facts or they remain naively optimistic about other people’s capacity to drive positive results regardless of the situation.
I worked for a leader early in my career that was absolutely delusional about the professionalism of his key leaders. He trusted but did he not verify. He let some of them bully him. He did refuse to acknowledge the high cost to the organization. The new leaders at all levels did not feel safe to share their concerns or even observations but he could not connect the dots to his key leaders and their styles. He hired change agents but then he allowed their peers to withhold information and resources so their success was limited or painfully prolonged. He never found his voice with his key colleagues, or at least he never demonstrated this when I worked for him.
When we remain in denial or even delusional, we tend to create a lot of chaos and confusion within our teams. When we have the courage to confront the brutal facts and take action based on those facts, we are able to create alignment at all levels. Then we find our business reality.
The key to having the courage is to focus on the facts and the data. Without the facts, it’s human nature to make up stories and put our own spin on these stories. “I know next quarter will be more robust”. “I know Bob and I know Bob didn’t mean to blow up that way in front of the team.” “I know everyone is committed to the same things.”
In order to build alignment, grow organizations and exponentially increase shareholder value, we must:
- Get the facts backed up by data
- Articulate to ourselves our values, our vision and our commitment to this organization
- Find our voice so we can articulate all of this to others clearly, concisely and consistently
- Demonstrate the courage to install consequences for bad behavior.
If you are interested in an executive dashboard in a cloud-based platform that supports everyone in staying focused on the facts in a positive, productive way let me know. We’ve analyzed them all and can give you a balanced perspective on the best ones.
Katharine Halpin has been facilitating transitions and M&A transactions since 1995. Long before that, however, she was able to identify leadership and management gaps and became a change agent leading efforts to close all those gaps.
The clients of The Halpin Companies consistently report they make more money and work fewer hours as a result of using our proprietary, proven methods to build alignment at all levels and grow shareholder value by a factor of 2-3 consistently and quickly.