I was shopping for a new tennis racquet in a store in northern Montgomery County, Maryland. It had recently changed hands after the prior owner had declared bankruptcy. The new proprietor greeted me with a hearty "good morning." I inquired as to the details of the transfer of ownership. He informed me that he acquired the furniture, fixtures and stock from the prior owner for a very reasonable price and assumed the rental commitment.

I told him what I did for a living and asked him the following question, "Given the failure of prior ownership to make a go of the business, what are you doing to improve the odds that your result will be different?" His look was one of fear, anger and confusion. Together with his response, "that's really none of your business," told me that he had never really considered the question.

Most businesses don't survive to see their 10th anniversary. The reasons cited in business publications are valid, but insufficient. Some of them include:

  • insufficient capital
  • lack of management controls
  • an entrepreneur/CEO/business owner who is proficient in her technical specialty, but who doesn't have the requisite skills to lead and manage a business
  • insignificant or nonexistent differentiation
  • strategic plans that wind up as credenza ornaments

I see these as symptoms but believe something bigger is going on. Most business owners do an inadequate job of driving to what I call the "Brutal Truth."

What is the Brutal Truth?

Webster defines truth as "the body of real things, events and facts." The operative words are "real" and "facts." Real facts are unassailable; they're indisputable; they just are. They pass the test of "reasonable scientific certainty."

2 + 2 = 4 is a fact. "Our company went out of business because of a recession" is not a fact.

The Brutal Truth is the state of certainty to which business people must aspire. It implies fact-based analysis and decision-making. It differentiates facts from legitimate but incomplete intuition. It requires the egoless testing of assumptions, and the relentless scrutiny of preconceptions. It explains results in terms of valid reasons, but never translates reasons into excuses.

Arriving at the Brutal Truth is difficult. As humans, we all cling to our own ideas and perspectives as if they represent the truth rather than merely our truth. It's a protective mechanism that helps us make sense out of nonsense, bring order to chaos and validate our own rules for how the world works.

The problem is insufficient truth-seeking disables organizational and personal success and growth.

Why the Brutal Truth?

Two reasons successful people drive to the Brutal Truth:

1. It infuses any situation with reality, which is a precondition for success. In your business, decisions must be made and actions have to be taken with reality (not hoped-for reality or half-true reality) as a foundation. Without reality, organizations become ineffective and eventually whither and die. Most executives accept this only as an abstraction. When it comes to specific issues, they stop short. The truth often hurts, and we all resist feeling bad in the short run, even if there's a long-term payback for doing so.

Dealing with reality is a primary, maybe the primary, challenge you face as a business leader. Without it, you will never achieve your dreams. With it, almost anything is possible.

2. It cultivates wisdom; the attribute that enables your tomorrow to look different than yesterday. No one gets through life without getting his or her backside kicked. While it's important to (as the song admonishes) "get right up and start all over again," that's an incomplete recommendation because "some people have ten years of experience; others have one year, ten times."

What does it take?

Mental toughness!

That requires that you attend to the details encapsulated in my monthly admonition: "Get real, get tough, and get going." Here's what that entails:

Get Real

This is about rigorous, relentless honesty and objectivity. It's about confronting things as they are, not as we'd like them to be. That further requires both the ability and inclination to distinguish among beliefs, feelings, ideas and facts.

Sounds easy; it's not. A variety of tools exist that enable you to develop the emotional muscles necessary to get real. I learned "mindfulness meditation" in a pioneering program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Contrary to uninformed belief, meditation isn't about clearing one's mind to reach some blissful state, but rather the ability to allow thoughts to occur without becoming obsessive or critical. It's a GREAT mental toughness tool.

Get Tough

This step deals with developing the thick skin and character required to be tough-minded as a way of life. This doesn't imply hard-headedness or cold-heartedness. The former characterizes people who resist input or feedback that challenges their preconceptions; the latter describes those who punish either themselves or others for the "way things are."

My friend and former SEAL Mark Divine believes that this is really emotional resiliency – the ability to bounce back from defeat – accept it, learn from it, move on from it. Remember that acceptance is not resignation.

Get Going

I've worked with many people adept at honesty, objectivity and mental toughness who unfortunately accomplish nothing. They know what to do, but they never actually do it. Life rewards action.

Because arriving at the Brutal Truth does not happen naturally, we have to build and sustain new muscle. I can help you develop that muscle and sustain it by making the search for the Brutal Truth obsessive and habitual. I help business leaders drive to the Brutal Truth in their decisions: to confront it, to attack it and to relish the notion that reality presents opportunity. As I said in my opening, you need to be a snake killer and not a snake studier. You don't want your business card to read: Vice President of Inertia!

Copyright 2014 Rand Golletz. All rights reserved.

Author's Bio: 

Rand Golletz is the managing partner of Rand Golletz Performance Systems, a leadership development, executive coaching and consulting firm that works with senior corporate leaders and business owners on a wide range of issues, including interpersonal effectiveness, brand-building, sales management, strategy creation and implementation. For more information and to sign up for Rand's free newsletter, The Real Deal, visit http://www.randgolletz.com