The primary task of leadership is to face reality. Reality is actuality. Reality is what is true. Reality is what is present and being experienced. Even though there are nuances, biases and multi-colored lenses that influence the manner in which each of us interprets reality, a core reality pertaining to any situation exists. For example if I were to give a seminar on leadership and you attended, that would be reality. I would talk about leading and misleading. I would give examples and explain my position. You would hear and interpret what I said. You may disagree with some of my ideas and assertions. You may interpret some of my examples differently from the way I or others do. However, at the end of the seminar the core reality would remain. I was there. You were there. I put out my ideas on leadership. I discussed leading and misleading. I made certain challenging statements. You agreed or disagreed.
Not all realities are this easy to identify. Framing and naming a core reality can be a messy business. When is something real and not a fantasy? Some realities arrive piecemeal, like a recession or a friendship that is disintegrating. Other realities arrive psychically, like a loss of confidence in an industry or a person, without, as we say: “being able to place my finger on it.” The physical evidence has not yet arrived yet the reality is “in the air.” Reality, whether obvious or not so obvious, psychic, emotional or physical, is the most significant factor in our lives in that reality is what is real and what is true. Reality is grist for the mill for the exercising of leadership.
Given the definition of leadership above, one of the sobering issues about leadership is that we either lead or we do not lead. Leadership is not a half-hearted affair. Exercising leadership is like being pregnant – either we are pregnant or we are not pregnant. There is no such a thing as being a little pregnant. We joke about half-truths but in fact there are no half realities. Either it is real or it is not! Similarly there is no such a thing as doing a little leadership or even being a mediocre leader. Either we lead or we mislead. Either we exercise leadership or we do not. Either, we lead ourselves and others to the truth or we do not. There is no wiggle room here. Either we do or we do not. It is as simple as that.
Every time we avoid, defer, negate, substitute or create fantasy realities or even “half-realities” we are misleading. Every time the truth is somewhat compromised, covered over or diluted it is an act of misleading. Every time we dissemble; sort of say what we think; fudge the issue; defer, delay, distract, redirect, or obfuscate, we are misleading. Every time we think reality will change because of our or someone else’s actions we are misleading. We may create a new reality; that is true. But the reality that has arrived, has arrived. We can react and respond, but once it has arrived it is already in the past tense and we can never change what has passed.
The challenging question for each one of us is: Am I a leader or a misleader? Am I committed to leading or not? This is one of the most simple and most complex yes or no answers there is. Leadership is a straight hit or miss affair. In the realm of leadership, a miss is as good as a mile. If I do not lead myself – i.e. align myself to my own realities – there is no possible way I can lead others. That is obvious. If I tend to live a life of avoiding its changing demands I will surely do the same with others.
One of our tasks in being “CLEAR” is to have a strong sense of how much we lead and how much we mislead. As always our assessments begin with ourselves. So the big question is “How much do I live my life aligned to dealing with reality, here and now?” Even though I may get it wrong; even though my response may not be as effective as it needs to be; the question is: what is my honest intention and do my actions support that intention? This question, like all questions concerned with the kind of person we are, is an ongoing question. It is a living question. It is a question we need to ask ourselves every day. Even if we handled yesterday well, today brings more new realities and once again we are called to choose – lead or mislead? So eventually this question of exercising personal leadership becomes part of who we are and how we try to live our lives. Of course there will be some good days and some bad days; some days when we can face the truth and some days when it all seems too much. And that is ok. Our task is to be CLEAR. How adept are we at facing reality and when and how do we get tripped up? How frequently and where do our vulnerabilities and fragilities lie? Once again our task is to be CLEAR, not perfect according to anyone’s standards. Just CLEAR.
EXTRACT FROM STAYING CLEAR: LIVING LIFE FROM A PLACE OF INNER FREEDOM second edition.
Annabel Beerel Ph.D.
CEO & President
New England Women’s Leadership Institute
Note: The title Lead or Mislead is credited to a professional colleague, James Wheeler, VP of Human Relations and PR at Androscoggin Valley Hospital (August 2012), who having heard me talk about Leadership and New Realities, aptly summed up my thesis.