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Good Leaders Know You Can’t Fight Reality

Here are three kinds of acceptance upon which leaders should focus

The ability to accept reality is one of the most useful, and most misunderstood, skills for a leader. It’s a concept that has been around for centuries in philosophy and more recently in psychology, and properly applied can help drive change. As Carl Jung wrote, “We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate; it oppresses.” But I don’t see acceptance applied enough by leaders today as a valuable tool for achieving better results.

Acceptance may not sound like a hugely valuable skill, especially because we hear so much about leaders whose force of will seems to defy reality. The most notable example is Apple’s Steve Jobs, whose reputation for pushing people to do the impossible has become the stuff of legends. Jobs is reported to have distorted his employees’ sense of scale, making them believe that an unachievable task was possible — dubbed the “Reality Distortion Field” by his colleagues. While there is admirable value in this force of will, this characteristic is often exaggerated in leaders who lack the balancing counterweight of also accepting reality. As Jack Welch, the other most written about business leader of our time said, “Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be.”

As a result, most of the poor leadership behavior I’ve observed has its roots in the inability to accept and work within the boundaries of what is happening, or the circumstances as they are. Unnecessarily harsh behavior, tantrums, aggressiveness, avoidance and shutting people out can often be traced to leaders who are doing a lousy job of handling reality in the moment. A few years ago, I watched the CEO of a public company scream, “I will not accept this forecast!” at the president of one of his divisions, laced with some angry profanity. In the days that followed, the CEO and division president went back and forth, revising the revenue projections upward to more “acceptable” results, until the CEO finally OK’ed the next quarter’s forecast. While the numbers looked better on paper, they were not based on any real progress with customers or any reality within the business.

Please select this link to read the complete article from The Harvard Business Review.

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