27 September 2023

Reality show: Why leaders must tell it as it is

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John Eades* says trying to sugar-coat the truth in these challenging times is the worst mistake a leader can make.

Every leader should have a go-to list of what they consider to be steadfast rules of successful leadership.

Criteria like: ‘Set clear goals’, or ‘coach for growth’ are used consistently.

While these tried and true mantras are important to uphold, leaders must remember to adjust and add to these guidelines.

The current uncertainty requires leaders to commit to ‘defining reality’ for their people.

Like many words today, the term ‘reality’ has been hijacked by the media; primarily for reality television shows — often over-produced parodies with very little truth.

Forget what you know about reality as it relates to television and the media.

Reality is defined as the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or imaginary state.

If you are going to be a leader who defines reality, it’s time to take off the rose-coloured glasses.

Defining reality and telling the truth to a team is clearly the right thing to do, but research indicates that most managers don’t do it.

A recent study found that only 17 per cent of employees report that their leaders consistently state the truth.

The reasons for sheltering teams from the truth are not complicated.

Leaders don’t want to create undue worry and stress on their teams since they don’t know what the future holds.

By admitting the situation might not be good, it puts leaders in a vulnerable position to admit they might have made some mistakes.

This could make team members lose confidence in their leader.

While these reasons make sense on the surface, there is a good chance that if leaders aren’t willing to be transparent about their current reality, the news isn’t good.

However, the best leaders use their current state and situation to their advantage.

Delivering the news to a team that the current situation or forecast isn’t good isn’t an easy task.

As I tell my team and clients: “If leadership were easy, everyone would do it.”

Telling the truth and ultimately scaring or disappointing an audience of people who rely on you requires a leader to tap into their courage.

If you struggle with courage, start small by identifying the next step or action you need to take.

Instead of scheduling an all-hands-on meeting, call one or two people on the team that you are close to, and tell them first.

Once you tap into your courage muscle, it’s time to communicate the brutal facts.

I intentionally use the facts and not feelings because facts are stubborn things.

Take the time to gather as much data and information as you can, and put together a set of facts that matter to you and your team.

In the current environment, this could be every day.

In uncertain times, you can’t communicate enough, even if the update is “there is no update”.

I have written a lot about hope over the last few weeks because it’s not only essential to getting us all through the Coronavirus but as a leader, you must keep your team looking forward.

Hope is an optimistic state of mind that is based on positive outcomes.

When hope is at the centre of your own mind and your team’s mind, it leads to positive actions.

By communicating the facts about your current situation and sharing hope in the future, you provide the platform for things to get better.

The only way things are going to get better is by getting your team to help make it happen.

When an entire team takes full advantage of its experience, expertise, creativity, and work ethic, good things tend to happen.

Opportunities are uncovered, action items are created, and it gives team members a fighting chance to make their current reality better one day at a time.

If you find yourself in a position of leadership, whether that be at work or at home, now is the time to make your current reality an advantage.

You are right where you are supposed to be, so lead like it.

Stay safe and healthy but don’t stop leading.

*John Eades is the Chief Executive of LearnLoft a leadership development company. He is also the host of the Follow My Lead podcast and can be contacted at johneades.com.

This article first appeared on John’s LearnLoft blog.

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