The ability to accept reality is one of the most useful, and most misunderstood, skills for a leader. As Carl Jung wrote, “We cannot change anything until we accept it.” However, I see it quite regularly that business leaders and managers many times fight with accepting the reality around them and hence fail to understand what needs to be changed to achieve better results.
Acceptance may not sound like a hugely valuable skill, especially because we hear so much about leaders whose determination and force of will have defied all odds. It is true that there is admirable value in sheer determination but 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.”
While we idolise leaders who show determination and succeed against against all odds, we rarely read about the poor leadership that is directly derived from the inability of certain business leaders to accept and work within the boundaries of what is happening or the circumstances as they are. The end results is many times unnecessarily harsh behaviour, tantrums, aggressiveness, avoidance and shutting people out.
In such turbulent times, I have experienced many times business leaders screaming or shouting as they could not accept the difficulties being faced by the persons reporting to them. The end result is that instead of the business leader sitting down with their team and working together to devise a plan to sort or mitigate the issues at hand and improve the situation for all, such business leaders unwillingness to accept the reality of the situation, makes it impossible to have any meaningful discussion and potential for change.
Unfortunately, I see this sequence of events all too often in various companies and businesses. A business leader is unhappy about a circumstance, result or even a person and insisting that reality be different. The next bad step is that business leaders wastes an enormous amount of time, effort and energy arguing and fighting about this reality. My message is simple – it takes courage to accept reality as it is but it is only then that you and your team can really begin to make changes.
Acceptance comes in different ways and below please find the main types of acceptance that business leaders should focus on.
Accepting Results: This situation is very common. The worst has happened. This could be a badly executed strategy, poor financial performance or loss of a major client. Business leaders can rant and rave as much as they want, but until they can properly accept what has happened, they aren’t likely to move forward or lead anyone else forward. Let me be clear – this does not mean that business leaders should just be ok with what has happened. Nothing of the sort. It is all about NOT channeling your energy into behaving unprofessionally or arguing about the outcome. It may even require you to examine and accept your role in the results. Leaders must remember that not accepting or willfully fighting a result won’t change it. More importantly, it doesn’t put you in a strong position to make changes to prevent future failures.
Accepting Circumstances: In these turbulent times that are many variables that could derail you. Variables that could cause unexpected delays or your going over budget. You have to accept that many times, as a business leader, you often need to face circumstances that are beyond your control – hence you need to make sure to give up trying to control on things you never had any control on to begin with. This doesn’t mean you have to be happy about or approve of a negative circumstance. Rather, acceptance gives you power to move forward in the most effective way possible instead of waging a futile battle against circumstances you can’t control. Our emotional response, particularly when it’s fighting something that’s not in our control, doesn’t provide the most productive behaviour.
Accepting Your Failings and Those of Others: No employee or colleague is perfect.While feedback and development efforts can build strengths and address fatal flaws, the critical precursor to change by any leader is the acceptance that they need to change. You must also accept others as they are and make choices based on the real person, not who we wish they’d become. If you have someone on your team who, notwithstanding all the training given, still doesn’t meet your expectations means that you have a decision to be made. You can either accept that they have value to your business exactly as they are or you can let them go. Where I see the most frustration and lack of productive effort is in constantly investing time, money and energy into employees in the hopes they will turn in to different people or develop new skills when they’ve demonstrated over and over that neither are happening.
You may have an idolised perception of leadership. However, as I deal with business owners, leaders and managers and the challenges they face all the time, I have learnt to be very pragmatic. One can believe that since we are all results oriented, the characteristic of “acceptance” is too passive and will only mean that the problems faced will remain being perpetuated. It is anything but. Acceptance is often misunderstood as approval or being against change, but it is neither. Acceptance is about acknowledging the facts and letting go of the time, effort and energy wasted in the fight against reality. Your reality may be that you are falling behind on revenue or that the effects of the pandemic are still hurting your business. Whatever it is you’re facing, you can’t employ your best skills to deal with it until you stop wasting your energy by fighting against reality and accept it, to then proceed to change things for the better.