Good to Great: Confront the Brutal Facts

In the previous post we took a look at putting people first and making sure you have the right people on the bus with you. I would like to continue this series by explaining why a company needs to be brutally honest and look at the hard facts in order to progress and become successful.

Face the Brutal Facts

You absolutely cannot make a series of good decisions without first confronting the brutal facts

The above quote from Jim Collin's brings home that fact that in order be successful you need to continually refine the path that you are travelling down by facing the harsh facts of reality. There is no point in deluding yourself with false hopes as at the end of the day they will more than likely lead to your demise.

As a leader, what matters most is you create a culture in the organization where anyone can tell the upper management what the company is doing wrong. You don't want to be the person who leads with force and instils fear in the team. By doing this, you make them more worried about speaking the truth as they might get into trouble, so they rather "hide" it, which disadvantages the company. You don't want to be the primary thing that people worry about.

One of the most demotivating things for a team member is to not let them be heard. Yet again, you want to create a culture in the organization where people can tell you the brutal facts, which allows them to voice their opinions and feel valued within the team.

How To Create A Culture Where The Truth Can Be Heard

  1. Lead with questions, not answers.
    I recently cam across a short, but excellent, blog post by Julie Zhuo in which she has short comic strips to describe an average manager vs. a great manager. One of these really stuck out for me and it went as follows:

Average Manager Great Manager

Essentially, this boils down to not giving the team the answers and telling them exactly what to do but instead explain to them the problem and see how they would solve the issue. Not only does this give them a sense of self worth as they come up with a solution, but they may also come up with a better one, especially if you have a team that debates various options. You never what to have a "dog and pony show" where the rest of your team just listens. Instead, you want that interaction and communication with everyone in the team as typically, the more heads there are on the problem, the better the solution.

One other point to remember is that you don't always have the best answers and that by asking the right questions you often come up with a better answer.

  1. Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion
    One of Jim Collin's findings was that great leaders would often have meetings that consisted of loud debates and heated discussions. By doing this, they continually "refined" the solution by not just settling on the first one that comes along or letting people "buy in" to their own predetermined solution.

  2. Conduct autopsies, without blame
    When you create a culture where you review the bad decisions that were made, without blaming the particular individuals, to allow the people to speak the truth without worrying. By having the right people on the bus, they will more than likely seek to learn from the situation. Joe Cullman had this excellent quote after making a bad decision in acquiring 7UP:

I will take responsibility for this bad decision. But we will all take responsibility for extracting the maximum learning from the tuition we’ve paid.

  1. Build "red flag" mechanisms
    As has been alluded to before in this post, you don't want people to hide the burning issues but instead you want them to be able to present information to you that cannot be ignored. You want to empower then to raise issues as soon as possible, so that they can be corrected sooner rather than later. You won't always be able to catch these things in time, so in those cases you will need to do an "autopsy" to see what happened. When doing this it is important to remember the point above.

The Stockdale Paradox

The Stockdale paradox is named after Admiral James Stockdale whom was kept prisoner in the Vietnam War and suffered terribly for 8 years. The paradox goes along the following lines:

Retain absolute faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties AND at the same time confront the most brutal facts or your current reality, whatever they might be.

What this is saying is that you need to have the faith that you will see bus through the storm, but in order to do so you need to take a good look at the reality of the situation. Interestingly, when Admiral Stockdale was asked who didn't make it out of the camp, he said that was an easy question, it was the ones who were the optimists and said "We're going to be out by Christmas. Then Easter, then Thanksgiving." and his response to this was "We're not getting out here by Christmas; deal with it!" In saying this he was having faith that they were going to get out at some point, however realistically it wasn't going to be any time soon.

In Closing...

As a leader you want to create a culture in your organization that allows people to bring up the real issues without being afraid. By facing the issues head on, you break down the barriers that are preventing you from becoming a great leader and a great company.

Until next time...keep learning!

Mauro Da Silva

Learning everyday about software development, leadership & self improvement

South Africa