Good leaders are basically positive people. They dream of a better future. They see opportunities within problems. They inspire people to team well and follow a vision. They create great solutions to challenges. That positivity can transform an organization to perform at very high levels.
Yet, as they dream, brainstorm and plan, leaders often miss data points about reality that aren’t so positive, but are critical to deal with. These data points will keep them from making large mistakes. But the “always positive” leader often minimizes or ignores these realities, to the organization’s detriment. Here are some realities that you do well to align with and adapt to.
- Negative market realities. The market is always speaking, and you need to always be listening to it. People’s needs and interests change, and you need to know when to make the changes necessary to it. When I owned and operated a healthcare company, the market shifted because of a disruptive technology called HMO’s. That new insurance entity changed the landscape of health care forever. We, the owners, adapted to the new market for a while, until we realized that our model of health care was unsustainable with the new normal, and we sold the business. It was not a fun move, but it was the right move, and time proved that. Just because you love your product or service doesn’t mean that the market does. Listen to the market.
- Problems due to tactics without strategy. I see this sometimes in companies I work with. They are creative and forward-thinking, but are always in a cash crisis or a process/systems crisis. Often it is because they are driven by a tactic (a new marketing plan, an improved comp package, or a new software commitment, for example), but not by a strategy. Tactics are very helpful, but the strategic plan must rule the tactic. Don’t get the two confused, I have seen companies lose great amounts of revenue in confusing the bright shiny objects from a well thought out, and adhered-to plan. When this is a problem, what happens is the company is always patching itself up like an old leaky roof, and the longer it goes like this, the more expensive it is to truly fix it. Spend time on the strategy plan and keep coming back to it. Tactics must bend the knee to strategy.
- Cultural issues. Research has shown that culture, or how people engage in the company, is just as important as strategy, if not more. A poor strategy can be strengthened by a solid culture much easier than the reverse. Yet growing a healthy culture means listening to lots of non-affirming negatives: people’s complaints about your leadership; their complaints about each other; and their own struggles. A poor leader will simply accuse these people of being SNL’s Debbie Downer and ignore them. That is not a good idea. A great leader will lean into the negative data points, explore them, respect them, and if necessary, make decisions based on them.
Align yourself with negative realities and don’t resist them. They can save your organization.
Leaders who are out of touch with reality may need to “land the plane” as I refer to in the video below: