Posted by: Don Linnen | 30 April 2013

Leadership Reality

Sometimes it’s tough being a grown up. Adapting to change. Cleaning up a mess. Hacking your way through a jungle. 

Jungles are intimidating. They have dense vines, wide valleys, hungry insects, ferocious animals, and killer snakes. But they are often less intimidating than institutions. Institutions have people. 

Many people are well meaning – but they all have a history, emotions, opinions, and beliefs. Beliefs often lead to perceived reality. As Marshall McLuhan put it: “I wouldn’t have seen it unless I believed it.”

Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell said in a recent interview with Charlie Rose that people interpret information consistent with their prior beliefs. They remember what’s consistent and resist what’s contrary in the prism of those beliefs.

Last week, leaders of an 87-year-old institution (my church) heard tough choices. The choices offer rich rewards but with correspondingly high risks. A key to success will be leading the way through mind-numbing complexities and human obstacles. Pushback will be normal as sides form based on their prior beliefs.

Clearing a way through this institutional jungle is possible as long as leaders are willing to lead – and accept the costs of addressing reality. Kathy Giusti in a recent Fast Company interview summed it up well: “the greatest cost of leading is the cost of paving the way.”

We shall see soon enough if leaders can meet the cost. And if they try to do it all themselves.

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