The Importance of Accepting Reality
In last week’s newsletter I referenced my recent HBR article, Good Leaders Know You Can’t Fight Reality
, and shared the important role that acceptance has played in my life and work. The article generated a good deal of thoughtful conversation, and I received some interesting emails with a wide range of perspectives.
One person wrote, “This is so right and so needed in the workplace. Also, do you have hidden cameras filming our executives?”
Another wrote, “This article is patently wrongheaded! You will fail in your efforts to discourage innovation.”
I recalled for a moment the idea that you can’t please everyone (nor is it my job when writing to do so.) So, while I thanked both of them for reading, it struck me that those who had a very negative reaction to the article shared a common misunderstanding about the main idea.
Let me be clear – accepting reality is not the same as apathy, approval, or passively accepting whatever comes your way as a leader. My viewpoint of accepting reality refers to the art of accepting what we cannot change and responding accordingly.
Accepting reality is a valuable leadership skill because it allows you a choice. Rather than being stuck fighting or getting angry, you can choose the most effective path forward based on the facts and circumstances as they are. Not as you wish they were, or believe they should be, but as they are. I bet you’ve seen leaders who fail to make progress because of their inability to accept and work within the context they find themselves.
There are three kinds of acceptance that are useful for leaders:
- Accepting results. Until you can fully accept a setback or failed strategy, you probably aren’t going to move on or support anyone else in doing so. Accepting results doesn’t mean you are comfortable with them. It means you can clearly see the reality of what occurred and will make the changes that are necessary to prevent the failure from happening again.
- Accepting circumstances. There will always be things that come up that are out of your control. The pandemic is an example of a situation in which it’s critical to accept the circumstances at hand. Acceptance allows you to switch your energy and thinking from “I don’t want this to be happening” to “How can we work with and adjust for what is happening?”
- Accepting your failings and those of others. Everyone is going to make mistakes. When you can accept your own failings, you give yourself the space to pursue growth. The same is needed for those around you.
Acceptance isn’t a passive behavior. It’s an intentional tool that gives you the opportunity to acknowledge reality and use it to your advantage. It frees you from useless cycles of frustration and avoidance, and helps you achieve better results. You can read the full article here: Good Leaders Know You Can’t Fight Reality