Have Courage-Do This One Magical Thing For Your Business And Your Life
One of our leaders took what many would say was a big risk last week. He asked us to an ‘urgent’ meeting, where he then outlined why his business was in ‘deep trouble’. We left the meeting delighted. Huh? How can that be? Bad news and we were thrilled? Here’s why. It’s a powerful message for business, and for life- if you’ve got the courage.
Actually, as CEO Mike and I walked across town to our next meeting, we concluded this business was NOT in deep trouble. It was underpinned with strength and vitality, with great people and deep specialization. But it had simply drifted away from its ‘heartland’, from what it did best. By playing again to its strengths, it would thrive.
What excited us most about the meeting was the pace of progress made in the discussion. This was made possible by all in the room doing one very simple thing. It’s very hard to do, but if you form the habit, is incredibly refreshing and invigorating. Here it is.
Face Reality- Always!
Iconic General Electric CEO of yesteryear, Jack Welch, was passionate about ‘facing reality’. He drove this habit through the way he ran his businesses, and the culture he built.
Face reality. Look hard at a situation and see what is really there. And then tell the truth.
It is human nature to gloss over bad news. We all do it. Steve Jobs apparently was a master at it: if he did not like a reality he, according to those who knew him, “just put it out of his mind and ignored it.” But of course, the reality does not go away. Margaret Heffernan calls it ‘willful blindness’- why we ignore the obvious at our peril.
Here are three critical tips of making ‘facing reality’ a habit you and your business can embrace:
1. Celebrate and Share Your Stuff Ups
“Executives must be able to advocate for the truth”, says Paul Gibson from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Create a culture where sharing failure – being open and frank- is real. I have always shared my stuff ups, taking valuable lessons from them. My Possums post on the biggest cock-up I ever made in business was published on Australian advertising blog Mumbrella and got a lot of (not all positive) feedback. Mumbrella made it a topic at its recent major conference in Sydney. It was great to see many industry leaders sharing stuff ups.
2. Reward Outstanding Management of Failure
Reward staff on their ability to identify and manage issues or failure. The reality of business means we will lose clients and get things wrong. The tsunami of change underway too means businesses must recalibrate (‘change engines mid-flight’). Things will go wrong. Strategy will be off track. Reward the ability to see that, and the courage to face it, address it, make further change. Successful businesses also accept to take a risk you have to be prepared to make a mistake.
3. “Retreat Slowly”
The biggest mistake I made with bosses of old was to ‘face reality’, and then present a ‘new financial forecast’ that showed a big decline. That’s not helpful. And 99% of the time not necessary. CEO Mike shared the ‘retreat slowly’ insight with me. Always face reality, see the problems, and then work hard at addressing them while protecting financial performance, and minimizing decline. This might mean slowing down another initiative, delaying hires, postponing discretionary spend, or driving hard for extra revenues elsewhere. Point is- we need to face reality, and also must then take hard decisions fast to protect our commitments to our ‘owners’, and to ourselves.
So- Face Reality. Look hard at a situation and see what is really there. And then tell the truth.
This needs courage. You won’t always be popular. As I say when ‘facing reality’ that is not welcomed…”Just because we don’t like it does not mean it is not true.” And then take action fast and decisively. And- RETREAT SLOWLY.
Here’s a very funny and short story, stolen from Tom Moult, who stole it from Jon Steel, who stole it from Jeremy Bullmore. Jeremy was apparently traveling on a Canadian Airways flight. On landing, the aircraft slammed down on to the runway with a terrible bang. Quite reasonably, the passengers waited the explanation from the captain. What they heard was: “This is Captain Johnson speaking. I’ve been flying with Canadian for over thirty years, and that was the worst fucking landing I’ve ever made!”
Here’s the surprise: the captain was suddenly a hero. As the passengers left the plane, they all wanted to shake his hand; they probably wanted to fly with him again. Why? Because in a world of squirrelly explanations, he’d been disarmingly honest.
I am an overweight, bald, middle age egomaniac rapidly going to seed. Message to self: Take action- fast!!!