Good to Great #4: Confronting the Brutal Facts

Posted: May 20, 2010 in Change Leadership, Leadership, Problem Solving, Success
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One of the key flaws many organizations have in common is their inability to deal in the reality of their current situation. Many times there are emotional connections to methods, programs or processes that have been created by the current leadership that are no longer effective, but due to the emotional connections involved the leadership of the organization fails to recognize the actual facts of the current reality.

The current reality could be that these methods, programs and processes are no longer effective at moving the organization forward and need to be changed or abandoned. Leadership at many organizations are blinded by their emotional connections to these practices.

What is your organization continuing to do due to your emotional connections to it despite the brutal fact that is no longer truly effective at moving the organization forward?

When the leadership of the organization either fails to see the facts of the situation or if they do see them, choose to ignore them, they cause the organization a great deal of harm. It is incumbent of the leadership of any organization to have a clear understanding of their present reality so that they can effectively move organization forward based on sound decisions arrived at by understanding the brutal facts of their current situation.

Jim Collins does a great job detailing the importance of this fundamental practice in the companies that went from being just good companies to great companies in his book, Good to Great. Collins later details the peril of ignoring the brutal facts in his latest book, How the Mighty Fall.

Here is a summary of the conclusions his research team came up with concerning the great importance of confronting the brutal facts of your organization.

Confronting the Brutal Facts!

Facts are always better than dreams. Facts provide accurate perspective of your current reality. A leader absolutely cannot make a series of good decisions without first confronting the brutal facts!

Summary Statement

All good to great companies began the process of finding a path to greatness by confronting the brutal facts about the reality of their organization. When you determine the truth of your situation, the right decisions often become self-evident. It is impossible to make good decisions without infusion an honest confrontation of the brutal facts. A primary task in taking a company from good to great is to create a culture where people have the opportunity to be heard and ultimately the truth to be heard.

  • The presence of strong charismatic leaders can easily become the de facto reality driving a company. Charismatic leaders can actually impede the confronting of the brutal facts due to the power of their personality casting a large shadow over the organization.
  • Charisma can be as much a liability as an asset. The strength of the charismatic leader’s leadership can actually deter people from bringing you the brutal facts. The power of such a leader’s personality can intimidate team members from bringing out the brutal facts because they may conflict with the charismatic leader’s perspective and the team fears repercussions for expressing conflicting information.
  • Once leaders allows themselves to become the primary reality people worry about rather than the actual reality being the primary reality, you have a recipe for mediocrity, or perhaps even worse.
  • In order to combat this tendency Winston Churchill created a Statistical Office, with the primary function of feeding him continuously and completely unfiltered the most brutal facts of reality.
  • How do you motivate people with brutal facts? Doesn’t motivation flow chiefly from a compelling vision? No. Not because vision is unimportant, but because expending energy trying to motivate people is largely a waste of time.

Leadership does not begin with just a vision. It begins with getting people to confront the brutal facts and act on the implications.

  • The real question is ‘How do you manage in such a way as to not demotivate people. And one of the single most demotivating actions you can do is to hold out false hopes, soon to be swept away by events

Spending time and energy trying to ‘motivate’ people is a waste of time and effort. The right people will be motivated – the key is not to ‘de-motivate’ them. One of the primary ways to de-motivate people is to ignore the brutal facts of reality.

How do you create an environment where truth is heard?

Four basic practices so people can be heard

1. Lead with questions not answers. To gain understanding, not as manipulation or as a way to blame or put down others.

  • What’s on your mind?
  • Can you help me understand?
  • What should we be worried about?

2. Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion.

3. Conduct autopsies, without blame.

  • This should only be to search for understanding and learning.
  • Not just better information, but better information that cannot be ignored

4. Build ‘red flag’ mechanisms

Having unwavering faith while confronting brutal facts!

3 Categories of people who had suffered serious adversity

  1. Those who became permanently dispirited by the event.
  2. Those who got their life back to normal.
  3. Those who used the experience as a defining event to make them stronger.
  • This is called the hardiness factor.
  • People act most while on the edge of a precipice.

The Stockdale Paradox

  • Leaders must never confuse having faith that you will prevail in the end (which you can never lose) with the discipline to conform.
  • Leaders must retain faith that you will prevail in the end AND at the same time confront the most brutal facts of your current reality.

The key elements of greatness are deceptively simple and straightforward. The good to great leaders were able to strip away much of the noise and clutter allowing the organization to just focus on the few key things that would have the greatest impact.


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