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Thursday, Mar, 12, 2015

Confronting Denial

When I have gained a few pounds I have a trick to punish myself--I make myself squeeze into jeans that fit comfortably just a few weeks ago.   Every bite now becomes conscious and trips to the gym are essential.    I invite my clients to do the same thing- face uncomfortable truths.  This empowers them to make decisions based on fact instead of wishful thinking.  We can't change something until we first are willing to say it needs to be fixed.  It is amazing how many people and organizations endure a crisis situation and never take steps to correct it because they won't admit that things are not working.

In one of my favorite books, Good to Great, Jim Collins calls this Confront the Brutal Facts (Yet Never Lose Faith).  He tells a story about A& P and Kroger, two supermarkets, the same age, both lagging in the markets, who collect data to see what they need to change.  Kroger embraces the bad news, rethinks their whole strategy and moves from good to great.  A&P looks at similar data and justifies, denies, ignores and dismisses the data.  Learning nothing, they continue with their failed strategy and lag even further in the market.   One of my clients sparked his management team to confront the reality of a dismal forecast of financial crisis by moving the management meeting from the usual cushy resort to the local community center bare bones meeting room.  
"Maybe if they are not at the mahogany table with the gourmet lunch buffet they will see we are in trouble and we need to do something now." he told me.  This move was also noticed by the employees that something was different. 

We all go into denial from time to time when the truth seems too painful to accept.  Or sometimes our belief is so strong (we do have the right product line!) that even data beyond refute is dismissed.  Sometimes our jeans are too tight and we don't notice.  We think it perfectly normal to slip into the drivers seat and undo the top button.  Small adjustments can nicely sustain our denial.    So the many signs and signals bombarding us for attention, begging us to wake up before it is too late are missed.

Attention, a willingness to be open to a different perspective and courage to take the chance moves us from denial to acceptance.   Leaders who foster an organization climate that welcomes diverse opinions, honesty and eliminates undiscussables have found the vital element that generates sound decisions and sound strategies.  It is an organization capable of learning

 Another critical factor which Collins calls Yet Never Lose Faith  is believing in our own strength and ability to change the situation.  I tell leaders in the midst of crisis their role is to seed hope while telling the truth.  But what is it within ourselves that enables us to keep going when our house is demolished by a tornado or our savings have been wiped out by an unexpected illness?  It is faith the future will be better.  We believe our actions matter and that somehow we will find a way.  The opposite is the victim who feels powerless and without options.  Since essentially a company is a group of individuals, wise leaders understand hope happens person by person.  Believing in each persons capability ultimately creates a collective mood of optimism, a powerful motivator of innovation and action.

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