How to Fulfill Leadership’s First Responsibility
Fear hopes monsters go away. Courage grabs them by the throat.
“The first responsibility of a leader
is to define reality.” Max De Pree
The movie, Apollo 13, made the phrase, “Houston, we have a problem,” famous. “Houston, we have a “challenge,” doesn’t cut it. Courage doesn’t play games with language.
Courageous leaders point out problems.
Defining reality is boldly describing what you see. It’s easy to sprinkle fairy dust on reality. You don’t want to point out problems, for example, because they reflect poorly on your leadership. So, you pretend they’re challenges and opportunities. Maybe, if you close your eyes long enough, they’ll go away.
Courageous leaders don’t pretend.
Bill Hybels indicated, at the Global Leadership Summit 2013, that all organizations are in one of three states, downturn, stagnation, or upturn. Everyone in your organization is waiting for you to acknowledge what they already know, but you won’t define.
Dealing with it begins by defining it.
Hybels went on to say that downturns, stagnation, and upturns require unique leadership competencies and behaviors.
- Face it head on.
- Yell, “Fire!”
- Call people to pull together, now.
Leaders yell, “Fire!,” with realistic optimism. They believe we can make things better, today.
- Face it head on, once you see it. Stagnation sets in like sleep arrives, slowly and imperceptibly.
- Set a fire!
- Create a crisis.
- Face it head on. Sustaining an upturn is hard; losing momentum easy.
- Pour fuel on the fire.
- Try new things, release young leaders to take risks.
Do the thing you fear:
Downturn-fear says, “Don’t make a big deal.” Make it!
Stagnation-fear says, “It’s not that bad.” It is!
Upturn-fear says, “We better pull back.” Push forward!
What makes leaders ignore realities?
How can leaders best lead during downturns, stagnation, and upturns?
Hmmm… the only problem with yelling, “fire” is that it leads to panic and firedrills. I agree completely with calling out the truth. We must be courageous. Our organizations need more of that for sure. And then to lead with strength and poise. Weak leaders also create panic and unproductive activity.
Thanks Karin. So true on the panic issue. Leaders who create panic create more problems. I didn’t have room in my post to describe the context of Bill’s comments. He was in the hospital when a fire alarm went off. Everyone was prepared to address the crisis. Yell fire was used in that context. So glad you brought this up. Cheers
Makes perfect sense. What a great example.
Good Morning Dan,
As I go into a promotional interview this morning, you’ve reminded me to 1st “Face it head on” 2nd address problems as problems not the pc “challenges”. Your “Leadership Freak” column has helped day to day in preparing for my day and for my long tern goals.
Wow! Thanks Bob. And best wishes for the interview.
Best of luck with your interview Robert. Remember this tip that was given to me a L O N G time ago. “Who you are, and what you are got you to where you are, (just be yourself)!”
Understanding the magnitude, timing and implications of a situation it a vital leadership skill… because situations are often brought about by more than a single cause, this can be difficult, experience can be a valuable tool.
Great add! Leaders react/respond appropriately. Don’t drink from a fire hydrant if all you need is a sip of water.
So what happens when you clearly define and folks do not like it?
I have found for me I ignore reality because of FEAR in two forms.
One, afraid I am going to lose something I think I need to survive.
Two, afraid I am not going to get something I have determined I need to survive.
Period, done, end of search for problems.
Hybel, might be a nice enough fella but clearly mistaken.
Only moving forward or back. Only two options, just like two emotions, love or fear. Every other emotion tracks back to one of these two. PERIOD.
The delio is THE DUALITY of man, not the TRIFECTA!!!!!!!!!! Light, dark, up, down, in, out, pregnant, not pregnant yada yada yada.
So deal with issues by simplying issues down to two, that is all that is there IN REALITY.
We are only a part of our solution or part of our problem. Which are you, for you?
First thing a Leader can two is get clear there are only two directions, up or down. So Hybel? What is the third direction? Right, thought so.
Next get out CLEARLY defined goals. Introspect and look over MY ACTIONS and see where I am missing my mark.
Get with Leadership team, ask them to do the same and then set a time to get together and decide when we are gonna SCHUK everything we thought we knew and start over copying EVERYTHING Barry Wehmiller is doing as a Truly Human Leadership Company. If we are not doing this already.
From 20 million to 1.5 billion.
from one industry to diversified to stabilizatiion
15% dividend to shareholders, annually
72% of employees love their company, each other and their job.
Simon Sinek feels this company best lives what he writes about.
Right on upper left hand corner of their website
WE BUILD GREAT PEOPLE TO DO EXTRAORDINARY THINGS.
Now lots of companies have nice phrases. These guys LIVE it and the proof is in the pudding. What’s in your pudding?
What is not to want to be like with that company? Bueller, Bueller, Anyone? If you can’t answer that check them out and then answer.
Stand for something or fall for anything. Me? I am a Principled Stander!
SP Back to the Present
What happens if they don’t like the definition? I’d suggest that the leader may be out of touch. Most people know when things are turning down, up, or going nowhere. A leader who describes a downturn as an upturn loses credibility.
It is true that some leaders are out of touch and blind. As you suggest, people won’t and shouldn’t “like” their definition.
Well yeah!!! Lol.
Could be lots of stuff on many fronts!!!!
To simplify, Simon Says hire people who believe what you believe!!!
If you do that and y’all believe in the clearly defined goals and believe in regularly checking up on them Then trust emerges!!!!
When this happens since you are working with common beliefs and trust THEN when problems arise you all feel the solution is found in a similar way. Duh!!!
You work together cause you all believe doing that will result in the best solution for all.
If you want to see that in action. Go to barry wehmiller.com and read all about it.
Or wait for Simons new book in 2014.
People who do not believe what you believe..better off for all concerned if they or you go work somewhere else.
Not bad folks or u for that matter, just everything goes better when people are working with people who believe what they believe.
SP back to the present!!!
What you bring forth out of yourself from inside will save you. What you do not bring forth out of yourself from inside will destroy you. – Gospel of Thomas
Beliefs create our reality. Through our beliefs is how we interpret the world. From an organizational perspective, beliefs are communicated through mission statement, value statement, code of ethics and the like. This orientation process is meant to build employee loyalty, commitment, and conformity. When organizations communicate their mission statement, vision for the organization, code of conduct, policies and procedures, they will likely recruit people who share conscious beliefs, but it is the shadow beliefs that leaders must be aware of.
Shadow beliefs manifest themselves when we don’t want to deal with something. The Jungian concept of shadow beliefs illustrate how we can deal with transforming shadow beliefs to conscious beliefs; which is crucial to personal mastery. Understanding this concept can help leaders create teams where they will trust in contributions instead of trusting in fear. Leaders are created who have peace of mind to trust themselves and lead from who they are.
Love this, Dan. I believe in Strengths-based leadership; that doesn’t mean we should avoid opportunity where our Strengths are not as Strength-y! What a call to courage.
One of my tendencies is to avoid addressing problems I’m facing– even with those who can help me. Sometimes I feel like I can get through it by sheer force of will; sometimes I do! What I’ve found, though, is that there’s a shortcut with few consequences in seeking help from those you trust.
Love the image you cast of a leader facing a problem– point it out and blow it up!
Thanks Justin. I’m with you, I tend to avoid. I’ve learned to listen to my avoider. I hate him. But, he’s point me to what I SHOULD do. The stronger I feel him the more I need to grab him by the throat. I’m there right now with the book I’m working on. Kaboom
good post and timely as you know. Part of the lag is perhaps not in facing reality but in being prepared to act upon it – or in your analogy how to reset the fire. For me the bottle neck is getting past not having been there before with this company or these people. Faith and courage come into play – the reality if have no choice but to act and to take yourself and your people into new territory, and the illusion is “it’s never as hot as you think it is” , and it’s certainly not as hot as if you stay where you are.
where’s those damn matches
If the first responsibility of the leader is to define reality, the second is enabling action. When I think about defining and taking the next step, how do we determine which direction and how big?
For me, trust profoundly impacts the second step. Do we trust each other? Are we listening to each other?
Thanks for taking us to the second step and best wishes.
Leaders ignore realities because we have been trained to. In our PC world we are afraid to talk about the issues and we would rather take the time to find creative ways to describe things than to get to the point. We are afraid of creating stress or discomfort but without these things we will never have progress. I like the tone you have been setting recently, no-nonsense leadership. Lets shake things up!
Thanks Anthony. Interesting how creativity can be the enemy of clarity when it comes to communication. Effectiveness in communication comes through simplicity.
All Hail shaking things up!!!
Especially when it is so obvious!!!!!
7 out of 10 US employees leave work feeling no one cares about them.
If you call yourself a Leader and that don’t cause you feel digust sorry but you are no Leader, you might be a manager, maybe.
Anyways, All Hail Shaking Up!!!
SP back to the present!
Great post Dan. Stagnation, downturn, upturn, are all the result of great, mediocure, or poor leadership. Years of reseach have proven that organizations that recognize Character as (the most important determining factor) when choosing leaders, have fewer problems. Organizations that do not recognize Character as the number#1 determining factor when filling leadership positions are engaged in a great diservice to it’s employees, customers, and it’s stock holders.THIS IS A VERY DANGEROUS PLACE TO BE.Now when problems can no longer be ignored, time for repair is not going to be on your side, does the term “it’s too little, too late”, sound familiar? Choosing leaders via ‘The Good-ole Boy approach’, results in what I like to call (Booble Head Leaders). Booble head leaders are not forthrite, nor do they speak the truth. They check to see which direction the wind is blowing, (yes, they are GREAT fence riders), and rely on thier own perceptions of what ‘the Boss WANTS to hear’, before they speak. Yes men inflate your ego, reinforce ones feeling of importance, and frequently COST YOU YOUR JOB. Sharing honesty, being inovative, inspiring employee involment, recognizing skills and talent, and then using these to address problems in thier infancy is true leadership. “I choose Character Based Leadership”. How bout you??? Till next time…
Thanks Steve. Your comment is powerfully confrontational to established systems. KaPow.
Mark Burnett, speaker at the Global Leadership Summit, passed on wisdom from nomads in Morocco. “Choose your companions before you choose your road.” I just love the truth in that statement. I think it applies to leading organizations in powerful ways.
Gee Dan. You don’t think I may have hurt a few feelings do you? Honestly, thats not my intent. ‘HONESTY’ however is my intent… Cheers Dan
🙂 hmmm… you didn’t hurt my feelings!
Hire ACEs > Attitude, Character, and Enthusiasm
“Choose your companions before you choose your road”. Now thats profound truth. Excellant advice as well, especially if your desire is to reach your destination unscaved.
I thought it was profound, too.
Leaders ignore realities because they are afraid of conflict. Conflict is uncomfortable and it makes those who you are leading uncomfortable in the short term. Many leaders adopt the cliches – live and let live or lead using the path of least resistance. They are just rationalizing their fear of conflict to face reality. The key is too have a firm belief and clear picture of the vision. If you do, you will force yourseld to face the short term realities for the greater wins which lay ahead.
Hi Chris, thanks for bring fear of conflict to this conversation. YOu extended our conversation.
Great post, Chris!
Being afraid of conflict and not addressing issues will lessen the effectiveness of your team. Practicing “live and let live”, especially with personnel issues, takes you out of the role of a leader and makes you just another problem for your team. Your team will quickly lose respect for you and lose enthusiasm for the project.
I agree that facing reality is key; you have to solve the problems that get in your way. I always have to remember that my reality is not the only one and that I have to understand the different viewpoints of my team and include them in to get the whole picture.
Invariably, when I tackle personnel issues head on and really listen to and see all sides, the conflict starts to dissipate since my team feels heard. This unleashes the power of the team to come to start problem-solving.
Thanks for the great article. My favorite line is the first:
“Fear hopes monsters go away. Courage grabs them by the throat.”
Fear pervades organizations when people have too many inputs; it is much easier to say “I will deal with that later when the issue can’t be avoided.” Great reminder to cultivate your courage, especially when you are overloaded.”
When you have the courage to bring items to your ‘boss’ be prepared with specific examples and possible solutions to explore. Making statements criticizing current systems alone usually isn’t received well when ‘they’ don’t see or want to deal with the issue, you’ve gotta sell your “why.”
I actually think its a bit ironic that this one got rated lower than the rest. This is the most actionable REAL thing that any forward thinking leader can do instead of just talk about. Words are great but actions are better. I have learned more about what kind of leader I aspire to be through bringing my courage to the table, than anything else along the way. If it was easy, we’d all be doing it.
I hear yas aonoymous, one of my names too!!!!
I take it a bit further. If your boss’ s and your why is not connected at the start…..danger Will Robinson.
Simon Sinek does a masterful job explaining this in his book Start With Why. Even better in his video understanding people and business.
When purpose is not aligned AT THE START is is very difficult to come together later.
It is like starting a trip from NY to California. You start out in a direction 1 degree different than someone else the farther from NY you two get the farther apart u get.
Just a great book and video and website. startwithwhy.com Hope u look, u will like.
While everyone has a right to their opinion Scott, I disagree with the viewpoint you have represented.
All personnel is connected by the bottom line at a basic level regardless of title -> money.
We all have bills to pay whether is is for electricity or the mansion.
We are also all connected by -> communication.
Communication can build bridges, and also tear them down.
It seems as though this persons ‘why’ is for the best interests of the company which will improve the bottom line and it starts with communication by bringing courage to the table.
We are all human beings, and are more connected than we realize which is often times taken for granted.
Another great post about how it takes guts to be a true leader. It actually reminded me of a course I once took on suicide intervention. We spent a lot of time learning how to discuss suicide with a person at risk and one of the biggest things I took away was that someone who is suicidal is usually craving to talk about it and wants to hear someone who is able to be open about it. It’s better to ask a person “are you thinking about suicide?” rather than “are you thinking about hurting yourself?” I know it’s a bit of a stretch, but I think the correct language is important when facing real life situations. Thanks for the great post.
I suspect most people are hesitant to “face it head on” because our natural tendency is to avoid unpleasant situations, even if we suspect that doing so will create even more unpleasantness later. We want to avoid unpleasant emotions in the body now. But if we develop the practice of being more aware of emotions and actually investigating them, we can be free from the control and take necessary actions in spite of fear or avoidance.
Unfortunately for too many companies, when the upturn occurs, the leadership gets the credit and reaps the rewards. When the downturn occurs it’s everyone’s problem and the leadership still gets the credit and reaps the rewards.
We fear what we don’t understand. The presence of fear is the absence of a solution. Business is always winning or losing. Stagnation is the tipping point before one of the other two options occurs.
Patience is seldom a characteristic of the financial markets that readily reflect the opinions of analysts and experts. They don’ want excuses, they want answers.
Acknowledge the problem, Assess the situation, Awareness of risks / opportunities, Act as required, Analyse process / results,
Okay, call it a problem, but take the Peale approach that sees it as an opportunity.
Great article…reminds me of an aphorism that Meg Whitman offered her troops –> Run to the fire; don’t hide from it !
I offer my interpretation of the same at: