DEFINING REALITY is a BIG Leadership Responsibility!

Hello everyone, it’s Brian Bratti, President of Bratti Innovation Group (BIG) back with you again for this week’s edition of the BIG Leadership Series.  This week and month we move from Part 1 - Personal Leadership to Part 2 - Leading Others, the idea people commonly think of when they contemplate the subject of leadership. For those of you who have the privilege to lead others, one of the first lessons you inevitably learn is that while many leadership roles come with perks like a fancy title, bigger office, more money, etc., there is often a high price to be paid for those perks which take the form of more responsibility.  These increased responsibilities are multi-faceted and while all have varying degrees of importance, I believe one of the primary and most important duties a leader faces early on is to define reality for the team or organization he or she is leading.  In the book “Leadership Gold” by John Maxwell, an entire chapter is dedicated to this critical duty so let’s take a brief look at what that looks like:

By defining reality, John is talking not so much about creating it (although you can create an environment that is conducive to fostering creativity, respect and productivity for those you lead but that’s a subject for another time) but more about facing it.   One of the toughest problems with which you will grapple is dealing with realities you don’t like and those problems are amplified when you are charged with leading others.  Simply put, leaders are required to confront and address the difficult realities facing their teams or organizations so they can in fact lead them through those realities to accomplish their organizational mission and provide an example for those they lead. Some things to consider when facing and defining reality:

A Leader’s Choice:  “You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I'm offering is the truth.”  In the epic movie “The Matrix” Neo is faced with a choice offered by Morpheus that all leaders must face on a daily basis:  do you wake up in your bed (or office) and believe whatever it is you want to believe (the reality that is easier to face in the short term) or do you see how deep the rabbit hole really goes (and let’s face it, the rabbit hole cannot only go deep but also go to places you really don’t want go)?  I call this the Leadership Red Pill/Blue Pill Challenge and it comes with the leadership territory and no amount of leadership perks is going to make this challenge easy.  Aside from the fact that the story rarely ends when you take the blue pill, it may be easy to swallow at first and might even have a sweet taste but over time ingesting the blue pill has all the propensity of giving you painful ulcers later on.  The red pill can be like choking down a horse pill but, if handled correctly, can save you so much pain and aggravation later on you may not even remember how difficult it was to swallow at first.  At least it will have seemed worth the initial swallow.  So here’s the deal:  if you want to lead others, you’ll be swallowing a lot of red pills during your leadership tenure.  Thus, it is in your and your team’s best interest to identify your red pills daily and take them despite their initial discomfort.  You and your team will be glad you did.

You Can’t Adjust What You Don’t Address:  As a leader, your job is to set the vision for the organization, no arguments there.  However, the path you blaze to accomplish that vision is fraught with obstacles and difficulties which often require you to change direction, speed and methodology.  All of the tools you have in your toolbox for accomplishing your mission and fulfill your vision are the means by which you adjust the organization as you go.  Having a plan to accomplish this is important, but adjusting the plan as you go to meet the realities that neither you nor anybody else could not have possibly imagined at the time you made the plan is just as important.  To be able to make these adjustments, you need to confront the tough realities that are hitting your organization and define those realities to accomplish that goal.  Your adjustment tools are useless if they’re left in the toolbox because the reality was not defined, faced and addressed.

Paradise Lost:  Often when we think about facing and defining reality, our default mechanism is to focus solely on the negatives since they have the potential to make our lives utterly miserable and our organizations struggle.  However, I’d also add that there are opportunities that can be lost by not confronting the realities our organizations face.  As we look out over the bow of our organizational ships, we surely need to be eyeing coming storms but let’s also consider which way the business current is going so we can use it to pick up speed, engage the crew more effectively and charge towards the horizon more efficiently.  Reality is littered with many opportunities to grow our people and our organizations that we simply won’t see if we don’t take our role to define reality for our organization seriously.

Set Expectations Accordingly:  The difficult realities you face as a leader each day can be overwhelming at times.  They can morph right before your very eyes leaving you to ask just what the heck happened and how did it get this way.  John Maxwell recommends we address self-deception as leaders by understanding 3 simple yet very powerful principles that can help you level-set your expectations when walking into these kinds of situations:

  • The Situation is often worse than you think:  The human tendency to think the problem will go away on its own or easily is powerful.  However, by setting up the expectation that it is probably worse than you currently think, you start emotionally dealing with it beforehand which can help you be fully checked in during the time you address it rather than underestimate it’s full force.  And, if for some reason situation is actually better than you originally thought, then you’re ahead of the game. Not taking the realities of leadership lightly is a sure way to address those realities more productively and effectively so consider adding emotional margin into your expectations of the situation.
  • The Process usually takes longer than you think: The desire to motor through the problem as quickly as possible so you can “wake up in your bed (or office) and believe whatever it is you want to believe” is a powerful attraction.  Sometimes, it can feel that the current reality you are facing is all that stands between you and all the happiness that is left in the universe so you want to get through it as quickly as possible to become happy once again as quickly as possible.  By expecting the process to take longer than originally thought, you stand a better chance of staving off that very valid and understandable desire for happiness until you can get you and your organization through the process that’s needed to face that reality.  Thus, add margin to your process and you’ll be happy you did.
  • The Price always costs more than you think: In budgeting circles, many often use a fudge factor to make up for unexpected costs, like budget +10% or whatever you tend to use for those purposes.  Why not consider using this thinking for difficult realities you are facing?  Most difficult realities you will face as a leader will cost you something in terms of time, money, effort or all three.  You may want to consider factoring into that reality a cushion over and above your estimated price so that, if you happen to be spot on in your evaluation of the problem’s cost, you now have “extra” resources to dedicate elsewhere.  Price margin, it’s a good habit for facing and defining reality

Facing the tough realities of today’s marketplace can be daunting for any leader, especially if you are going it alone. So let me ask you, do you, like so many leaders today, struggle with identifying and dealing with some of the realities coming at you and your organization on a daily basis?  Would you benefit from having a “strategic thinking partner” who can help you sort them out and ask you the questions you need to hear to address them as only you can?  I’m available to talk with you about that and other ways to help you and your organization “Achieve BIG Results.”  Email me at or go to my website to learn how I can help you face and conquer your realities today!  In any event, I’d love to hear from you.

That’s all for this week.  I’ll be back next week when we look at one of the most crucial skills any leader must possess in abundance if he or she is able to address the realities facing his or her organization and that’s the Skill of Listening.  Bye for now and have a blessed week.