***This article is inspired by chapter 8 of John C. Maxwell’s book Leadership Gold –
“A Leader’s First Responsibility Is to Define Reality.”***

A key responsibility for leaders is to define reality for their followers. This is a crucial starting point if you are to lead your people anywhere significant. Defining reality is identifying the starting point that allows you and your team to map out a path to move toward your desired destination.

Leaders who neglect this key priority for their organization or team handicap them for achieving success. Defining reality is not always fun. The leader must take a hard look in the mirror and assess the current status of his or her effectiveness, the state of the team, and the state of the organization.

If this is such an important role as a leader, how do you define reality? Consider the following:

1 – Clarify your mission and vision

If you are unclear about what you are supposed to achieve, you can’t effectively lead your team forward. Defining reality requires that you clarify why you exist and where you are heading. Your mission is your purpose and your vision is your desired outcome. For followers to be effective in their work, they need to be clear on what they are contributing toward.

2 – Write down the good, the bad, and the ugly

What is going well? Where are you struggling? What are you simply failing at achieving? Leaders may not want to own weaknesses, but the truth is that followers and outsiders already see them. If you have poor customer service, your customers and prospects already know it. If your team is dysfunctional, team members are already aware. Writing out what is going well and what needs to improve gains trust and credibility because it shows that you are honest and realistic.

3 – Draft a plan to solve problems

One of the worst things that often happens in meetings is beginning with a blank sheet of paper. As a leader, always draft a plan to begin the conversation. The plan may ultimately look nothing like what you drafted, but the document is critical to help move things forward.

4 – Include your team

Effective leaders not only think through the status of their team and organization, but they also include their team to create buy-in and synergy. While you may think you know how best to proceed, asking for and receiving feedback builds trust and credibility. Most followers simply want to be heard and contribute to the solution. Their ideas may not be adopted, but they will feel valued in the process. By including your team, you are acknowledging that while you have ideas and possible solutions, they may have better or complementary ones.

5 – Assign action items and completion dates

Once you have defined reality and made it clear to your followers, you must assign action items and completion dates so that progress can be achieved. Never leave a meeting where it is unclear who is responsible for actions and when they are due. If this step is overlooked, accountability is hijacked and progress will be stifled. This will lead to more frustration and will cause you to define new problems.

As I stated at the beginning, defining reality is a critical action for leaders. Burying your head in the sand is not an option. The longer you wait to tackle the hard issues that your team or organization is facing, the worse the problems become. If you have not defined reality lately for your team, block some time to work through these five steps and then prepare to experience traction that you may not have had in quite some time.

Until next time…make today GREAT!

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