Facing Reality: The Skill Leaders Love To Hate

Every day my funky little meditation app, Headspace, sends me mindfulness questions via pop-up notifications on my phone.

Lately I have been getting A LOT of the same question –

“are you resisting your feelings?”

It made me think about facing reality. There comes a time when we have no option, but to face reality.
Yes, it may be unpleasant. Yes, it may be ugly. Yes, it may be a bitter pill to swallow. But knowing when to face reality is a critical leadership skill. Sure, it ain’t as sexy as bold visions and grand plans – but it’s equally as important.

When do we need to face reality?

The ad campaign you ploughed millions into making, but doesn’t cut the mustard and shouldn’t be launched.

The strategy expensive consultants helped you devise, but which is now defunct due to the changing marketplace.

The hotshot exec you hired (and spent a fortune in money and resources doing so) but isn’t the perfect fit you anticipated.

The fact you are unhappy – in your job, career or in any aspect of your life for that matter.

Burying our heads in the sand can be tempting. The gentle lull of denial can be as inviting as the song of the Greek sirens, who lured sailors with their enchanting music and voices – whilst also leading them to shipwreck.

Let’s face it, denial is a more attractive option. But refusing to acknowledge reality can be the difference between success and failure – in some cases, for the entire organisation.

You don’t have to face reality in a harsh way. Skilled leaders I’ve worked with face reality with a compassionate touch. With those they lead. And with themselves.

But, they do it.

They may pause. They don’t rush. But they never turn away from difficult truths. They look directly at the problem facing them and those they lead.

The irony is, although facing reality can be painful at the time, it can lead to less discomfort in the long run.

And facing reality does not mean surrendering your dream or giving up on what you know in your gut to be the right path forward. But it does mean confronting and dealing with reality, as it stands, right now.

In the words of Bill George, author of “True North” and former CEO of Medtronic –

“Leaders can’t solve problems if they don’t acknowledge their existence.”

So as you begin your week, take a moment to pause and ask yourself:

What feelings am I resisting?

What truths am I avoiding?

Why am I avoiding them? Is it due to fear of loss, pain, embarrassment, or something else? 

How would facing reality in my leadership role (and in my life) change my situation? 


  1. Bindy on January 26, 2015 at 7:07 am

    Suzi your words come from a deep wisdom and hold so much truth. Thank you.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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