-Face Reality

Paul B. Thornton

What’s going on?

Leaders want to improve the status quo. However, before you can improve the current situation, you have to understand what’s working well and what’s not working.      

Analyze both the hard data and the soft data.

  • The hard data refers to the numbers. The numbers tell a story about the economy, market share, sales, expenses, profit, and turnover? Also, it’s helpful to analyze the important trends.       
  • The soft data tells a different story. It refers to the hard to measure things like people’s feelings, frustrations, fears, and energy level. It’s the emotional side of the equation.   

Both types of data provide important insights about the current situation.

Take Action

Get out of your office and talk with people. Ask lots of questions and make numerous observations. Observe people to get a sense of their priorities and how they use their resources. Identify patterns and themes.  

What are people’s strengths, weaknesses, priorities and biggest frustrations?

How aligned are people around a common set of goals and plans?  What level of teamwork exists throughout the organization? 

Get feedback from multiple points of view including customers, employees, managers, stockholders, suppliers, and external consultants. Each may have a different view of reality.  

Finally, put all the pieces together to form a picture of the current situation.

Inaccurate View of Reality

Some leaders miss the mark when diagnosing the current situation for a variety of reasons including:   

  • Avoidance—Not wanting to discover the ugly problems because it will reflect badly on them. 
  • Blind spots—Having a distorted view of certain aspects of their operation and themselves. They often think their performance is far better than it actually is.   
  • Inadequate Observations—Jumping to conclusions after making limited observations. 
  • Missed Importance—Overlooking the significance of certain metrics.
  • Selective Listening—Only focusing on the information that supports their point of view.
  • Yes People—Surrounding themselves with people who freely share the good news and put a positive spin on bad news.  

Avoid these traps.  

  • Force yourself to be curious and open to all points of view.
  • Encourage people to speak up and present all the facts—good and bad.  
  • Determine which hard data is most important to include in your analysis.  
  • Play the devil’s advocate. Challenge current assumptions.
  • Make sufficient observations to identify patterns of behavior.


Leaders influence and inspire people to make positive changes. Understanding the current situation helps you identify what’s working well as well as what changes are needed and possible.


Paul B. Thornton is an author, speaker, and adjunct professor. Three of his core principles and practices are add-value, continuous improvement, and simplify the complex. His two most recent books are Precise Leaders Get Results and Leadership-Finding Your Sweet Spot (Authors Place Press). He has produced 28 short YouTube videos on various management and leadership topics.  He can be contacted at [email protected].