Do you have a reality distortion field?
By Jeff Hough
I consider myself a glass half-full kind of person; I’m always looking for the silver linings in the clouds. As the New Year approached, I was contemplating the age-old practice of setting goals, when I remembered a lesson learned from Steve Jobs. In Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs, I learned that Steve had the ability to convince himself and those around him to believe almost anything through his sheer will and personality. It was as if Jobs could bend reality to fit his perception of what it should be, regardless of whether the view was right or not.
In my own reality distortion field, I have the same athletic ability that I had 20 years ago and I look like I did when I was 25. Leaders are required to have a vision of where they want to go or what they want to accomplish, but what happens when an organization collides with a leader’s reality distortion field?
Last year I decided to run in the Pocatello half-marathon, so I began training in May for the August race. In my distorted view of reality, I figured that since I ran track in high school, getting in shape for a half-marathon would not be more difficult than running a few miles. By July, I had been running regularly, but did not feel confident enough in my conditioning to be competitive in the race. My body was not responding as I thought it should. I consulted the top running blogs on the Internet and discovered that I was doing it all wrong and would continue to struggle if I kept my current course. With six weeks left to prepare for the race, I began making the changes suggested and noticed immediate results. I was able to compete in the race and narrowly missed the time goal I had set for myself. I had to change my perception so that it aligned with reality before I was able to experience success.
Leaders setting paths for organizations in the vacuum of their own perceptions are like an airline pilot ignoring his instruments. Business moves at the speed of electrons and what worked yesterday may not work today. A few years ago, shipping a shoddy product might not have affected a company’s reputation as much as it would in today’s social-media world. Consider Apple’s social media debacle with new mapping software on the iPhone and the CEO apology it caused. Consumers were all over Twitter and other outlets tearing apart the software and the erroneous directions it gave.
Last year I had the pleasure to work with an organization led by an excellent leader with a vision. Part of the vision was to find efficiencies amid budget cuts while improving service standards. Rather than provide the management team with a completely filled out roadmap, this wise leader laid out a simple destination and asked the team if it was possible and if so, what could they do to make it a reality. During the planning session, the group slightly re-shaped the vision and developed a lengthy list of projects to make it happen. When I checked back six months later, I was amazed at the progress the group had made. They were 75 percent of the way through the project list and had hit several of the required milestones. The team was alive with the successes and the struggles they were having, relishing in working toward their shared vision. I look forward to their end-of-year review.
Strategic planning requires a vision of the desired destination and employees invested in the outcome. A leader who lays down a complete plan without consulting the team is destined for failure. Leaders need to see their teams as people rather than objects. When leaders recognize their people as such, they enter into a focused reality where results come from unified goals. The old saying, “It takes a village…,” holds true in business. Sharing a vision and letting others help shape its path, provides buy-in that pays dividends when the going gets tough. A great trick to having a successful planning session is to utilize a moderator and allow the leader to sit among the team. This strategy allows everyone to take part in the discussion and ownership of the ideas. It also gives leaders an opportunity to listen and learn valuable insights into what keeps their people up at night.
As you enter the New Year, I challenge to you take a minute to see if you are operating within your own reality distortion field. If you encounter a reality distortion field barrier, do not run or make any sudden movements. Just back away slowly, until you are beyond the pull of the field. Once beyond the pull of the field, you can regain your senses and do things the right way.
Jeff Hough is the interim director of Workforce Training at Idaho State University.