Tough decisions have their birth when a leader’s faced with what Jim Collins calls the brutal facts. Brutal facts are those stubborn, nasty little realities that scream at us “leader, you have serious problems”. And serious problems always require making the tough decisions to solve them.
Which is the problem for so many leaders – when we’re faced with the brutal facts we must do something with them, we’re compelled to act, to make tough decisions. So one of the first and most courageous steps a leader must take is simply to face the facts and accept them for what they are – reality. But there’s a strong temptation to explain away the facts that will cause us difficulty, pain, extra work, or we simply don’t like.
This temptation has the same elements as the temptation people often faced with when they become lost, it’s a phenomena psychologists call “bending the map.” It’s when a lost person stops believing their map because it doesn’t line up with what they think their reality should be. They explain away the inconsistencies between what their map is telling them and where they find themselves. They chose not to believe their map but instead to believe their own distorted reality. This happens because the fear of being lost is such a powerful emotion that people will disregard all the facts, talk themselves into believing what is false all to stave off that fear, even if the result’s to become more lost.
From my experience the phenomena of bending the map doesn’t just occur when people are lost. Something similar happens when leaders bend their financial maps because they can’t accept their financial results, or they bend their people maps when they can’t believe people would act or perform in a certain way, or they bend their performance maps because the key indicators don’t line up with their expectations. When leaders lose the courage to face the brutal facts they begin to explain away and rationalize that their maps are wrong and their indicators are off base. They chose bending the map instead of taking the very courageous step of facing the brutal facts and admitting their lost.
So the very first step in making the tough decisions is to resist the temptation to bend whatever map you’re looking at and instead to face the brutal facts. To embrace the reality your map is telling you and, more importantly, to accept the responsibility to change course by making the tough decision.
Is there any place in your leadership where you are or have bent the map, where you’ve failed to face the brutal facts? What have you done to find the courage to accept the harsh reality staring you in the face?