How Learning About Reality Can Make You A Better Leader

A Dose of Reality

How can learning about reality help you become a more effective leader? Well, reality is about perspective and seeing things from all sides. Take a moment to look at the screen you are using to read this article. You see it only from your vantage point. In reality, there are a multitude of vantage points to view your screen. If you are sitting at a desktop computer, for instance, you see the screen and everything on it. Someone sitting across from you only sees the back of the screen and cannot see what you see. Someone sitting at a right angle to you might see the screen but can’t read what is on it. Or, when you are a passenger in a car you see the road differently than the driver. You don’t see what is in the rearview mirror or side mirrors. You, therefore, experience a different reality than the driver and all of the other drivers on the road.

Similarly, when you lead others, you only have a perspective from your vantage point. You only see a sliver of reality, and what you do see is not really reality. It is only one perspective. You might say that your vantage point is the only one that counts. Well, that is certainly one perspective. In reality, since you are the leader it is your responsibility to get the truest picture possible so you can make the best possible decision. Bad Bosses look at things from minimal perspectives. They do not want to be bothered by other perspectives because it might challenge their beliefs, or might make their job more difficult once they learn a different reality. It’s always easier to just stick with what you think you know. However, true leadership means facing reality, accepting it for what it is, then making a decision based on the new reality.

Someone in a customer service department accidentally shipped a major customer their order to the wrong address. The customer service person felt horrible. She went to the warehouse to try to resolve the situation with the shipping manager when the Vice President of Sales walked up and asked what happened. The customer service person said she screwed up and entered the wrong address.  The VP of Sales said to her, “Thanks for falling on the sword.” The customer service rep wasn’t paying full attention because the shipping manager was talking on the phone and she was listening to him, but she thought she heard what he said. Later I walked up to the customer service rep’s desk and she was crying. She was telling another customer service person that she felt bad about shipping the order to wrong address and added that the VP of Sales made it worse by saying to her, “Thanks for screwing this up.” Luckily I was there because I immediately jumped in and told her that is NOT what he had said. I told her what he actually said and she immediately felt better. Talk about a mixed up message. If I had not been there the customer service rep’s perspective about the VP of Sales would have been completely wrong. The VP of Sales thought he said something nice, and he would be wondering why he is getting the treatment from the customer service rep. Reality.

How many other times could something similar to this have happened to us over the years? Friendships and jobs have been lost because of the wrong perspective. Our own reality is a dangerous thing if we put too much faith in it. To really complicate things, add to your perspective your past experience, your emotions, and your senses. What we “see” is skewed by what we have seen and experienced in the past, how what we experienced made us feel emotionally, and if there were sounds, tastes, or tactile sensations associated with the experience. Some people love thrill rides, for instance, others are deftly afraid of them. Some like the outdoors others like to be inside in the comfort of their homes. Our past experiences influence how we view others.

So how we view others determines how we treat them.  How we treat them determines how they treat you as their leader, and therefore, how effective you will be at influencing them. As a leader you should care very much about reality. When you ground yourself in reality you ground yourself in truth. Truth allows you to make the best decisions for you, the people that work for you, and the company you work for. The next time you are at odds with someone on your team about a decision, spend time understanding their perspective by probing how they reached their decision and the reasoning behind it. You might find a better solution or a different direction that is more solid than yours alone.