“Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be.”
– Jack Welch

Once a Level 5 Leader has finished getting the right people on their team, they focus Stage Two of making the leap from Good to GreatDisciplined Thought. This starts with facing the brutal facts of reality as it relates to their situation, and acting on those implications. A Level 5 Leader is not only skilled at doing this, but leading their teams to do it as well.

Andrea started a business creating beautiful, hand-cut, paper portraits for people. Her portraits became so popular that within the first day, she had over 78 requests for commissions. Fast forward a year later, and she still had a waiting list three or four months long. This is the kind of attention that most startups dream of.

However, as business ramped up, Andrea noticed that every portrait presented a whole new set of design and construction challenges. This in addition to hand-cutting each tiny intricate piece seriously added to how long the portraits took to construct. She did the math and realized that she was only averaging $2.47 an hour. This was not a sustainable business idea.

She knew that she was already at the threshold of what people were willing to pay – she could maybe double the price, but that would thin out two thirds of her client base or more, while still only making a little over $5 dollars per hour. Not only that, raising her rates meant that she would no longer get to create for an entire demographic of people that she loved.

Andrea could have ignored the nagging sense that something was wrong, and used the popularity of her business and her love of creating as an excuse to not to dig in deeper, but that would have been a huge mistake. Because she faced these facts, she was able to save herself a lot of time and trouble, as well as avoid burnout and even bankruptcy.

Level 5 Leaders also keep the faith that in the end, they will prevail regardless of difficulties. Keeping this mindset while still facing the brutal facts is vital. Andrea knew that her paper portrait business was no longer a sustainable model – she could have closed up shop and hung her head in defeat, but instead, she behaved like a Level 5 Leader and went back to the drawing board and came up with a new idea.

It’s one thing to face these facts as a Solopreneur – but often times, leaders of much larger corporations can be too far removed from things to even know what the brutal facts are that they need to face. In order to overcome this obstacle, those leaders need to create cultures where the people on the front line (who have a front seat view to many of the company’s brutal facts) have the opportunity to be heard. Creating this kind of climate involves the four following practices:

  1. Leaders must lead with questions, not answers. Don’t tell people “how it is” based on your vision – ask people how things really are, and allow the truth be told.
  2. Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion. Allowing your management and executive teams to strongly debate things when they don’t see eye to eye is vital, but works best when you have the right people. The right people only care about the best interest of the company, not their own agenda.
  3. Conduct autopsies, without blame. When things don’t go right, don’t point fingers – dig in and get to the root of the problem. If a particular person turns out to be at the root, help them learn from that mistake and correct the process.
  4. Build red flag mechanisms that turn information into information that cannot be ignored. Ignoring the brutal facts, or fostering an environment where people are afraid to state those brutal facts will be catastrophic.

What realities of your situation do you need to face head-on? Do you have faith that no matter the adversity, you will still prevail? Have you put the “right people on the bus” and have you given them a voice? These are all important questions to consider if you want your company to transition from good to great.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
– 2 Timothy 4:7 (ESV)