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The ability to confront brutal facts can make or break a business. But how do we do that while still respecting the varying perspectives of different players, including partners?

This came up for me because my partners and I are re-reading Good to Great by Jim Collins. Chapter 4 is “Confront the Brutal Facts.”

The premise of the chapter is this: Your business cannot grow if it does not correct. Yet, you cannot correct if you never know there is a problem. Without constructive criticism, you cannot focus on the things you need to change to make them better.

How do we have honest conversations in a society that believes “we all have our own truths”?

Here are three ways:

  1. Encourage your team to focus more on reality and less on the leader. If people in my office start thinking, “Tony wants it done this way” instead of “This is the best way to do this,” I have failed to breed a culture that respects reality.

Sometimes, a leader’s personality is so dominating, so charismatic, or so fragile that employees focus on protecting the stability of the leader. They don’t want to rock the boat, so they refrain from disclosing certain information. If you believe this is true of your leadership, create a work-around. Can you acknowledge this to your team and send them to a specific person who can provide you with the truth on their behalf? Can you do the personal work necessary to make yourself a more calm, level-headed leader?

The brutal fact is this: If you cannot find the workaround, you will not get the truth from your team.

  1. Ask for the brutal facts, and ask for them regularly, both in large team meetings and in one-on-one meetings. Ask questions like:
  • “What are some of the things happening in this organization or the market at large that you are afraid to bring to my attention?”
  • “Is there anything happening that you think I need to know but do not know?”
  • “We all have our blind spots. What is mine?”
  • “In what ways am I creating a culture such that people are afraid to give me the brutal facts?”
  1. Understand that perspectives are facts, even when they are not true.

This requires explanation.

There is a saying that everyone has his or her own truth, but this statement is inaccurate. Everyone has his or her own perspective, and the person’s belief in this perspective is a fact. The existence of the perspective is a fact. That a person believes what he or she believes is a fact.

If your tone of voice is severe, the reality might be that you talk in a severe tone of voice, and you have always done so, even when you are happy. It is that way when you are angry, when you are frustrated, and when you are passionate.

The perspective of your employees might be that you are often angry or frustrated.

Even though the perspective is inaccurate, their belief in this perspective is a fact, and it needs to be a fact that is honored. It should not be discounted simply because it is inaccurate.

The truth is: Your employees believe that you are often angry or frustrated. That is a fact. It is also a fact that you are not often angry or frustrated.

These things can both be true.

Why does this matter? It matters because we need to expand our definition of facts so that we can make changes accordingly. That a person is feeling an emotion is a fact. That a person has a certain perspective is a fact.

Yet, too often, we shut out these bits of data as irrelevant. We think: If my intention is good, it isn’t my fault that someone is misreading me. I cannot spend so much time dealing with emotions and people’s feelings. I need to cut to the chase and deal with the business.

This is failure to confront the brutal fact that your intention is being misread. And when a leader isn’t understood property, everything from the culture to the ability to attract clients can fall apart.

By understanding what these facts are, you can make changes to your own behavior to encourage different emotions or different perspectives, when doing so is appropriate and beneficial to you.

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