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The Dangers of Denial

| May 27, 2014

by Jim Bruce

This week’s Tuesday Reading is The Dangers of Denial,  an essay by Ron Ashkenas, managing partner of Schaffer Consulting and co-author of The GE Work-Out and The Boundaryless Organization. The essay first appeared as a posting on the HBR Blog Network.
Ashkenas notes that great leaders tell it like it is, focusing on reality no matter how painful or unpleasant it might be.  Then, they turn to figuring out what to do about it.  On the other hand, less effective leaders sometimes avoid hard truths, question the facts, delay the decisions.
But, on occasion, even the best of leaders is sometimes in denial, often without knowing it.  The thing about denial is its often easier to see in others than in yourself.  It’s too easy for a leader to engage in “wishful thinking” or to “interpret things in the way we want them to be,” rather than as they really are.  For this reason, coping with denial cannot be done alone as it must be a team effort.  Strong leaders need team members and colleagues who are not afraid to bring bad news, to tell the truth, and to help them peel away their own avoidance mechanisms.

Ashkenas suggests that there are two principles to keep in mind when dealing with denial in our career and with those around us:

1.  Don’t assume that others see a situation the same way you do.  Facts and data are often open to interpretation and each of us analyzes a situation from our own point of view.

2.  Get tough subjects out in the open.  By being open to dialogue, particularly on the tough, complex issues, team members will see the issue from multiple perspectives, be able to challenge assumptions, and gain perspective on the situation.

So, great leaders don’t usually get trapped in the denial of hard facts and that’s because they have a lot of help from their teams and other colleagues.
This week when you face a complex, difficult situation, find a team member or a colleague to dialogue with to first develop a more complete understanding of the issue and then a possible resolution.  

Have a great week.  .  .  .    jim