If Reality Sucks, Then Change It

realityvirtualAs I typed in the title of this blog post, I asked myself, “Why would I have the need to say that out loud?!”

But I do. Because in organizations, many of us are miserable with the way things are, and instead of changing it, we simply conclude that this is just “reality.”

Last week when I posted about challenging a bullying Board Chair, a good friend emailed me to remind me that in “reality,” that’s not going to happen, certainly not from a staff member, and probably not even from a fellow board member. It’s complicated, and there’s politics involved, and years of relationships to navigate. My scenario lacked the details of this complex reality.

And all that’s true. The scenario I presented was really more hypothetical, demonstrating what a challenge COULD look like if you have a culture that was clearly committed to truth telling. I left out the complexities because I wanted to highlight the point I was making, but I do know the complexities are there in real life.

But I want to be crystal clear on something here: just because it’s reality, doesn’t mean you have to tolerate it.

If you have a Board where no one would dare challenge the Chair, then obviously you can’t just show up one day and start challenging what they say on a conference call. You don’t get to simply dismiss the reality, you have to work with it. But are you working with it? What kind of Board orientation do you do? Is it all about submitting travel expense forms and understanding Roberts Rules of Order? Or are you talking about culture and what kinds of conversations drive the success of the enterprise? Are you giving them the standard line about Board doing strategy and staff doing implementation? Because that actually might make it much harder for staff to challenge bullying behavior. There are specific things you could be doing to change things. If you want a different reality, then you have to work for it.

There is not one, perfect way to do this. Maybe in your system, the impact of not being able to challenge the Board chair isn’t that significant. But I want to at least give everyone a warning: the days when we could tolerate dysfunctional reality in our organizations and still thrive are slipping past us. Here’s the new equation:

(pace of change) + (millennials) + (failure of “we’ve always done it that way”) = higher standard for leadership.

Those who choose to tolerate dysfunctional reality will very quickly be looking up at their competitors who take a stand against a reality that sucks.