In my consulting work with leaders, often my most difficult challenge is pushing them toward “situational reality.” By this I mean simply a realistic assessment of the situation. The facts. The truth. The state of things.
You would think that every leader would insist upon knowing their situational reality, but it isn’t so. Myths abound. People believe their own PR. They cling to old stories that no longer have any relationship to current reality.
In this condition of what I call “situational fantasy,”—the opposite of situational reality—wise decisions can’t be made. No one knows where they are and so they don’t know where they’re going. No one knows where to start making changes. In fact, no one knows if changes are even needed. Everything is always fine in the world of “situational fantasy.”
I once worked with a company that told itself every day that it made the finest product in the field. They were proud. They were happy. They were also operating in “situational fantasy.” Once I urged them toward objective studies, it turned out they were third in their field and dropping.
I once worked with a church that prided itself on being a “cool” Church of Christ, a certain Christian denomination. They talked this way. They branded themselves this way. They took comfort in their niche. The truth? More than half their members were ex-Roman Catholics. Most of their visitors were Baptists. They didn’t know where they were, where they had been, or how they could most easily grow. They had no situational reality.
I also once worked with a leading politician. He thought of himself as a fierce Washington, DC political infighter. His constituents, though, thought of him as a welcome voice of reason, someone who could heal the quagmire in the nation’s capital. I told him he could be whatever he wanted, but he need to understand the gap between his perception of himself and the way the people in his state saw him.
This is what situational reality looks like. It is a clear-eyed embrace of all the relevant facts. It is an unsparing look at the situation as it really is. It requires courage. It requires humility. It also requires defying the forces that don’t want the bright light of truth to shine too brightly.
Think about your leadership. Are you willing to know the truth? Have you put systems in place to report the truth? Are you willing to involve outside studies to assure you have unbiased truth? Are you willing to act on the truth once you know it?
These may be the most important questions for your success. Take them seriously. Ask them often. Insist that those who lead with you ask these questions too.
Have a good weekend. And hang in there with Notre Dame. Better days comin’.