The leader in the room is the person closest to reality, the person who doesn’t rely on hope as a strategy. We must accept the negative facts in our reality before we can deal with them.
Twenty years ago, everyone subscribed to print magazines and newsletters. The industry was bullish on print even as circulation numbers began to fall. Some publishers faced the fact that print and mail were getting more expensive, while free content was becoming more and more readily available on the Web.
The result: Some of these publishers started testing workflow products and software. Others came up with creative ways to monetize Web content. Still others began using their content to sell products. Those companies look very different than they did 20 years ago. Some aren’t even recognizable as publishing companies, but they are thriving. The companies that spent their time telling each other that print would never die have failed. How were the successful companies different? First, they had leaders willing to face negative realities head on and who fearlessly tried and failed with many models knowing that one would prevail in the end. Second, they had a culture of reality.
Our leaders have big personalities. We look for strong, aggressive leaders. Those traits can also lead to an environment where people hesitate to come forward with bad news. That is why you must create a culture of reality where people are encouraged to share the bad news.
Ask yourself: How often do I get bad news before it shows up in the numbers? Do I get it early enough to act on it instead of reacting to it? How short is the path of information from the customer to my ear? How do I know what customers think about my products?
Use these strategies to create a climate where brutal facts are shared:
- Make sure all employees are trained on your core values
- Lead with questions, not answers
- Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion
- Conduct autopsies, without blame
- Build red-flag mechanisms; and
- Make sure there is a robust customer feedback loop