Leadership 101: Confront What Is

realityThere is a down side to this wonderful human brain that we all have in our heads, and that is that sometimes we can spend too much of our time living up there in our heads, and not down here in reality. This is particularly true when you face a challenge–a significant conflict with someone, a rough spot at work, an illness in you or a family member. When we hit these challenges, our brains naturally focus on solutions. This is fine, except that it often means that our heads will be spinning for some time around the way things should be, and the ways the other party should change his or her behavior, or how the market should respond to your product offering, or the solutions the doctor should be able to provide you.

There’s nothing wrong with thinking about these things. In fact, in most of the situations, getting clear about the ideal, and understanding WHY things “should” be that way is a critical piece to problem solving. But I’m warning you: staying in that land of should is actually pretty comfortable, and you will be tempted (maybe without even realizing it) to stay in that world and not confront what IS, rather than only what should be.

Spend equal time confronting what is. What IS your behavior and the other party’s behavior in this conflict situation? That is your starting point, even if it is upsetting that you have to start at that place. What IS the market’s response to your product? What marketing did you do, how many views were there, what feedback did people actually provide–dig into the reality of what happened, rather than focusing only on the end result.

The best leaders I’ve ever been around have all done this with ease. It requires some emotional intelligence (managing your negative reaction to the “what is”), but the ability to see the truth of the current situation clearly and dispassionately (you can save the passion for the “should be”) can inspire people to move into that somewhat scary place with you. And that’s where we all need to be to solve the really important challenges we face.