The first rule of leadership is to present reality. Presenting reality requires a candid and thoughtful appraisal of performance, connected to objective and measurable criteria, upon which both parties can agree.
Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.
- John Lennon
I have always believed that the foundation of leadership begins with a realistic and collaborative assessment of the current state. The extent to which we are able to effectively analyze and communicate reality to those we lead, in large measure, determines our success.
The two biggest mistakes that we make as leaders are to either avoid or overreact to bad results. The other mistake we often make is to fail to adequately acknowledge positive results and contributions.
When our team is successful it's easy to take their contribution for granted. We assume that achieving team and individual goals are part of the job. Sometimes we overlook the importance of recognition as a key to successful leadership.
Acknowledging achievement, sharing successful and effective best practices, and celebrating success is just as important to presenting reality as addressing challenges within the organization.
Catch someone doing something right.
- Ken Blanchard
In business, the numbers are the most objective measure of performance. Whether you are a numbers person or not, the black and red of it is undeniable. Reality begins with a realistic assessment of the financial performance of any individual or business unit. Numbers are always open to creative interpretation, however, as leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure that everyone has as a clear understanding of the results and their impact on the organization. Also, there should be a clear relationship between the results and the key initiatives and goals of the team.
Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one. - Albert Einstein
When we avoid addressing bad behavior or under-performance, we are in essence endorsing it. It's easier to ignore a bad situation than it is to address it. In most cases we cling to the notion that the situation will somehow resolve itself, in spite of the fact that we build up a lot of apprehension and frustration in the interim.
- The long term result of avoidance is confrontation.
- Confrontation results in overreaction.
- Overreaction results in resistance.
When addressing challenges, the how is just as important as the what. If we can deliver the message skillfully and unemotionally, we are much more likely to get the best result. The focus should be on the results or behavior rather than the treatment. Delaying the conversation also makes things much more difficult.
The purpose of presenting reality is to create a productive and useful dialogue that promotes improvement and sets the stage for making the right adjustments.
Once we agree on reality we can think about what changes are required to either get back on track or move to the next level. Usually this suggests coauthoring a detailed action plan and a realistic timeline.
Change is inevitable. It is a natural consequence of of the dynamic and competitive world in which we live. It is the role of the leader to constantly challenge every player on the team to understand the reality of that world; and to grow and evolve in way that enables the organization to survive and flourish.
The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor. - Max De Pree, Leadership is an Art
About this series: Our CEO and President shares his experiences and insights as a thought leader for 39+ years in the technology industry.
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