“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” – Flannery O’Connor
Wishful thinking. Everyone criticizes it, everyone bad mouths it, and everyone does it. We want things to be a certain way so badly that we convince ourselves that it’s so. Then we act accordingly.
Leaders aren’t immune. There is no end to the number of decisions I’ve seen leaders make that are based entirely on wishful thinking. They don’t want to acknowledge that their view of the world is flawed or inaccurate, so they convince themselves it isn’t. Then they make decisions or take actions that don’t work out and can’t figure out why.
Think about yourself as a leader. Do you ever really challenge yourself to identify where you’re engaging in wishful thinking? Do you ever force yourself to be honest about the situation you find yourself in? Or are you too proud/afraid to face unpleasant realities?
I’m not suggesting that everything you think is wrong. I’m also not suggesting that having a positive attitude about something means you’re being unrealistic. As leaders we have to have positive attitudes, and we have to believe that regardless of the situations or events we’re faced with, we – and the organizations we lead – can succeed.
But in order to actually succeed, we have to be able to be completely, brutally honest about our world. We have to seek out and accept the truth about our people, our marketplace, our competition, our customers, all of it. We can’t hide from reality just because it’s scary. We can’t ignore problem just because we aren’t exactly sure how to solve them.
That all sounds great. But what if it’s not so much that we’re purposefully ignoring difficult things? What if we legitimately can’t see reality? Fair enough. Sometimes our wishful thinking is so ingrained and so far removed from our conscious mind that we can’t see it.
In that case, get help. Who on your team can see the reality that we’re missing? Or, where can you go outside your team to get that perspective? As a leader you have to be secure enough to ask for help, whether it be from someone internally or externally. Find that person or group of people who can help you see things as they really are.
Making decisions is difficult. Taking action is difficult. Even when we make good decisions and take the right actions we still may struggle. It’s even worse when those decisions and actions are based on a false sense of reality. Make sure you’re leading in the real world, not a fake one.