Have you met otherwise smart, astute leaders who for some inexplicable reason ignore the obvious danger signs threatening their careers if not their companies? A year or so ago I read a really interesting book, Denial – Why Business Leaders Fail to Look Facts in the Face and What To Do About it by Harvard professor, Richard Tedlow in which he defines denial as “the unconscious belief that a certain fact is too terrible to face and therefore cannot be true;” and a fundamental flaw in many business leaders. What I took away are the following signs that you may be in a business relationship denial:


1. If you ever think you have all of the information you need – much of the info that gets passed up the chain is filtered, water-down, color-coded, inspected, repacked, and sanitized. What leaders really need is fewer “yes-men,” or “yes-women” around them and more people who will tell them the hard, often painful truth!

2. If you don’t make a point to listen intently – if your relationships get the sense that they won’t be heard, they won’t speak up. They’ll go along defending the status quo vs. challenging it. Candor is the lifeline of long-term success in any team dynamic.

3. If you think only short-term – Any parent can tell you that Band-Aids won’t work when the kid needs stitches or even surgery! But at work, we delay problems, avoid real solutions, and keep patching things up like a quilt instead of dealing with the real issue now and getting it the inevitable resolved!

4. If you blame others or trash talk the competitors – It’s the biggest reason most people hate political campaigns: instead of running on their own track records and fresh ideas, most candidates resort to mud slinging. Anna Freud called it “defense by means of ridicule and scorn.” Trash talking others is a sign of trying to hide an internal deficiency!

5. If you relabel what you have vs. changing what you must – When reality gets tough, many simply change the name of the project, the team, or the failed initiative. Let’s not call them “troubled assets” when they’re really just plain junk!

6. If you don’t tell the truth – In relationships when you push aside hard truths in favor of more palatable or convenient versions, denial is omnipresent! The lies we tell and the lies others tell us are equally destructive.

7. If you don’t think denial is a problem you face! Similar to the alcoholic who believes he’s a social drinker, you’ll never be able to fully conquer denial if you don’t admit it to yourself. You can’t be both subjective and objective. You can’t avoid blind spots when you drive, but good drivers realize they exist and account for them whenever they drive!

Some business relationships create less denial in their mix! How can you gravitate toward more of those?

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