A Courageous Leader Faces Reality


People who don’t like facing bad news or problems have, for a long time, been compared to an ostrich that buries its head in the ground. (Fun Fact: This is a myth! Ostriches dig holes for their eggs and either run away or drop to the ground when they sense danger.) But even if it’s not quite accurate, the comparison is a fun one to make because it’s both slightly comical and truthful. Ignoring bad news, or simply refusing to acknowledge it, is a bit like sticking your head in the sand.

If you are in a situation where you sense a stampede is coming your way, it would be foolish, maybe catastrophic to pretend it’s not there. Just because you choose not to look to the horizon or turn a deaf ear to the stampede, the stampede is coming, whether you like it or not. The choice is how to respond to the reality.

This analogy is true for leadership. Leaders face a variety of stampedes every day. Some are more challenging or harmful than others. No matter the type of stampede – think problem – it must be faced head-on. Courageous leaders make the choice to respond.

Acknowledging a Problem

As a leader, your main job is to make sure other people do theirs. You don’t do this by putting roadblocks in their way, but by removing them. It’s your responsibility to ensure that your team has the resources and support they need to get the job done, and to get it done well.

Unfortunately, this means getting your hands dirty. It might not be pleasant, and it may take a lot of guts, but it needs to happen in order to move forward. You have to find the problem that is throwing your team off—this could be anywhere from a process that needs to be reviewed to a team member’s attitude or performance—and acknowledge it.

Only when you acknowledge the issue can you address it. But understanding its origin is important as well.

The Origins of the Problem

Organizations are made of people and all people have unique personalities. Some play well with others, some play well with everyone, and some play well with none. Know your team members’ unique personalities and instincts as well as understand their strengths and weaknesses. Put them in situations where they can perform at their best.

Most of your organization’s problems come from not fully understanding peoples’ personalities. After all, an organization is not made of only processes, it’s made of people. And when you identify the people that work well together (see our whitepaper about the importance of Culture) you have a team that can solve whatever problem that comes their way.

Developing A Plan Ahead

Let’s say you have identified two team members aren’t working well together for whatever reason and that is causing the rest of the team to underperform. What’s the solution?

Maybe their egos are in the way, maybe their personalities clash, or maybe it’s something else entirely. Either way, this behavior can’t go on. Now that you’ve faced this reality, you can’t bury your head in the sand. You need to develop a plan of action!

  • Prepare by recognizing what it means to confront. The word “confront” is a combination of two Latin words that literally mean “to be with someone in front of.” Courageous leaders stand with people in front of “reality.”
  • Have the hard conversation with each of them individually. While this conversation may be uncomfortable there is a process to follow.
    • Your conversation needs to be clear, direct and to the point. State the issue (problem, reality, situation, etc.), give an example, describe the impact and invite them to respond.
    • Listen carefully for the real issue. You are not there to debate but to focus on the truth. (This takes discipline to stay “on point!”)
    • Seek resolution.
    • Determine your next steps and the person’s next steps.
    • Set up a time for a “check in.”

If the situation persists it will involve some of the following:

  • Alerting the right people of the problem – HR, Supervisors, Senior Leaders, etc.
  • Putting the person on a development plan.
  • Enlisting the services of a coach or trusted advisor to uncover the person’s “blind spots.”
  • Giving continual feedback on the progress until it is resolved or the person is eventually removed from the organization.

A leader faces the problem head-on and has the courage to speak out and do what’s necessary—both things we will cover in the next blog post. Stay tuned!

Does any of this sound familiar? Any of these problems or struggles ring a bell? Contact Nexecute and get the coaching you need to step up and be a courageous leader.

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