Today's Challenge: Define Reality

This is the first in a series of posts to address the issues that you’ve asked me to address. The issues I write about may not be your current challenges; but if you lead long enough, I’m guessing you’ll bump in to most of them. Today, I want to respond to the challenge of defining reality.

Max Dupree wrote in his book, Leadership is an Art, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.” This is easier said than done. Leaders can easily become insulated from reality. This is especially true for senior leaders. Here are some thoughts on how to define reality for your organization.
Study the data – Edwards Deming said, “In God we trust – everyone else bring data.” Data reflects what people do or fail to do. Data can be a tremendous ally for leaders. All the answers may not reside in the data, but clues to the solution (or the problem) can almost always be found there. Look at the trends over time. Look at all your key health indicators and secondary metrics. Not for just a month or a quarter - look at the trends over years. What caused the increases and the decreases? By taking a long view back, you’re better able to accurately assess today’s reality.
Ask a lot of questions – There are infinite questions that can help you and I define our current reality. Here are a few to help stimulate your thinking:
What’s working? What’s not? If we could change one thing to significantly improve our performance, what would it be? Based on the data, what should we stop doing? What should we start doing? What should we do differently? What are our strengths? What are our weaknesses? What are impediments to our growth? If new leadership came in from outside the company, what’s the first thing they would change?
Study your competition – This is not intended to suggest that we should copy our competition, but I’ve long been an advocate of learning from them. You can study them by physically visiting them. You can visit their website; you can buy their product. We did this recently by visiting more than 20 of our competitors in a two-day period. We learned a lot about our current reality.
Seek outside counsel – Find trusted advisors outside your team… even outside your organization. These men and women can bring a level of candor that you may not be able to find internally. Allow them to speak truth about your situation.
Go to the field – Don’t rely only on reports from others - see things first-hand whenever possible. The answers to your most perplexing issues are often found far from the conference room. Try asking the people closest to the work to help you define reality.
Think of defining reality as an on-going process rather than an event. With your current reality clearly in mind, you’ll be in a much better position to create the future![GLS_Shield]
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