The Power of Facing Hard Truths

Nearly 20 years ago, I received the best leadership advice I could have hoped for.

It’s been invaluable ever since.

We had just raised $10 million from Mission Ventures and I was a young and inexperienced CEO.

My attorney and I were preparing for my first board meeting. I had 4 demanding VCs on the board and we didn’t have any margin for error.

As we finished our preparation, she said to me, “I have one piece of advice for you as you manage this company, ‘No surprises, Jeff!’”

She went on to explain that most entrepreneurs have a natural tendency to delay the delivery of bad news. Until it’s too late. Until everyone is shocked, surprised, and sour.

She said, “Jeff, if things aren’t going well, if you see problems on the horizon, then you must let your investors know as soon as possible. You’ll earn their trust and gain credibility. And you’ll uncover solutions together before the problems are too large to fix.”

Successful entrepreneurs see the wisdom in acknowledging what’s not working and doing so as quickly as possible. Then, as a leader, updating the relevant team. This, at the expense of discomfort, disappointment, or embarrassment.

This approach puts the pain front-and-center and gets everyone in the “real world”. Because, the fact is, most entrepreneurs have a hard time acknowledging the reality of bad news and red flags.

Facing the hard truths about where your business really stands at any given moment is crucial.

Like watching a slow-motion train-wreck the world just witnessed Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg and Facebook collide with the hard realities of withholding the hard truths. They provided a shocking illustration of how to turn a big problem into a catastrophe.

In hindsight, failed companies can retrace the steps to the critical points where real concerns were dismissed or ignored. Bad news was marginalized while strong reports and feel-good optimism carried the day.

They say, “hindsight is 20/20”. That’s true, but it’s also a cop-out.

An honest evaluation of real time results is close to 20/20 also.

Operating honestly and with transparency in the here-and-now is how young companies grow into exceptional ones. It’s how the big, strong companies maintain their position. And it’s how great leaders rise to the top.

The problem is, most young entrepreneurial leaders don’t have the stomach to face the hard truth at the moment it comes to light.

The sooner you can learn to embrace and communicate the truth about your business; and that means the good, the bad, and the ugly, the sooner you’ll find yourself closer to where you want to be.

Remember, “No Surprises, Jeff!


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