Posted by Bill Dann

“What?”, you say.

In the last issue, I mentioned that frequently in strategic planning we find that what the employees see as the real issues of the organization are not the issues identified by management, especially the CEO, as relevant. In short, there are separate realities in the organization.

Stating it another way, “what is” for some in an organization is not “what is” for others. And, we tend to be blind to that which is not “what is” in our own mind. What this principle is saying is that denying the reality of others in the organization can cripple the effectiveness of leaders. The effect is that leaders don’t know the whole truth about the organization and are susceptible to making poor decisions as a result.

In other words, as a leader, you must be on the search for all the “realities” in the organization and not just operate on your own, because, by definition, it is limited.

Why this occurs

We all have a certain level of tolerance for issues or problems. As a protective mechanism, when we have reached our maximum, our mind simply dismisses the reality in front of us. We either literally don’t see what others see, or we see it, but deny its importance or deny that we have any responsibility for it.

Responsibility scale

There are varying levels of awareness and responsibility for conditions that pose problems for us. You have no doubt seen this at work with friends or family who have tried to confront a hard problem such a obesity, excessive drinking, smoking and the like. But, the same holds true for problems within an organization that don’t get faced up to and handled.
Here are the levels:

  • Denial – lack of awareness that the condition actually exists. “Didn’t do it”
  • Lay Blame – it exists but it is someone else’s fault. “Mother makes fatty foods”, “Frank made me do that”.
  • Justify – Ok, I did it, but only because I had to in this situation. It is out of the ordinary and wouldn’t happen again. “I am drinking because my wife left me”, “I didn’t tell you the truth about it because I thought it would really harm you”.
  • Shame – “You are right, I blew it and am not worthy” etc., etc. This is an attempt to become a victim, invite sympathy or be given another chance.
  • Responsibility – “Yes, I did it, and I need to correct it”.

The challenge here is that someone will fight taking responsibility because he or she:

  1. doesn’t want to change,
  2. doesn’t want to admit being wrong,
  3. can’t handle responsibility for one more problem right now.

Why this matters

It is my experience that the problems we can’t “see” or take responsibility for are the ones that are killing leaders and their organizations. Everyone else can see it, but you can’t. And thus, their confidence in you is eroded. What makes this worse is that these are typically the problems that your subordinates aren’t willing to tell you about. Why? Because they fear that your reaction, out of denial, will be to kill the messenger.

What you can do

First, understand that we all suffer from this phenomena. So, when confronted with a problem, don’t go into “shame” on the above scale. Until you get to “responsibility”, nothing will get better. But, you will need help to get there.

The road out is paved by building a strong team – a team whose members can tell one another the truth and trust that they won’t pay a price for it. You need a team that understands that this isn’t personal, it is about 1) a collective responsibility to get the organization to excellence, and 2) that each member of the team has their own weaknesses and blind spots.

Finally, be sure that your team has all the data they need to understand the true condition of the organization. We recommend to our strategic planning clients that they get input from all their employees on what could be done to optimize performance of the organization. This is the only method of assuring that all the realities, i.e., all the “what is”, are on the table for management to consider.

Discover all the “what is” now

Have questions or want help with an assessment that gathers input from all your employees? E-mail us, and we can get you started.

If you are interested in learning about Dann’s Principles 1 and 3 – 9, or the list as a whole, click on any of links below:

Introduction to Dann’s Principles of Management

Principle 1: There is Another Side to Every Issue

Principle 3: There are Politics in Everything, Everybody

Principle 4: Performance Set By Example

Principle 5: The Leader Truly Leads

Principle 6: Being Honest

Principle 7: Consistency

Principle 8: Two Way Dialogue

Principle 9: Everyone will Find Fairness Somehow