Idiocy of Denial– False Defense Against Reality, Refusal to Accept Facts: Some Leaders Ignore the Obvious Until It Hurts…

Denial (refusal to believe) is the unconscious determination that a certain reality is too terrible to contemplate, hence it cannot be true… In business, countless companies get stuck in denial while their challenges escalate into crises…

According to Steve McKee; the psychology of denial is fascinating, dictionary says; it’s an unconscious defense mechanism in which emotional conflict and anxiety are avoided by the refusal to acknowledge the reality of certain– thoughts, feelings, desires, facts… that are consciously intolerable.

According to Dr. Carl Alasko; denial allows a person to keep moving forward rather than stopping and facing painful restrictions, demands of reality… and yet reality always wins…

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 Denial is a form of repression, where stressful thoughts are banned from memory, i.e.; if you don’t think about it, then you don’t have to deal with it– just bury your head in sand and move-on… However people engaging in denial pay a high cost in terms of the psychic energy needed to maintain a state of denial, and even worse it has a destructive outcome from its delusion… According to Nicolas Colin; problem for many businesses is that there are always good reasons to rationalize that nothing needs to change…

In the article Admit it: You’re in Denial by Richard Tedlow writes: Denial is an unconscious calculus that says; if an unpleasant reality were true it would be too terrible to cope with, so therefore it cannot be true… It’s what Sigmund Freud described as the combination of ‘knowing with not knowing’… Denial is one of the most common and potentially ruinous obstacles that managers face… Denial permeates every facet of business; it’s the impulse to avoid painful truths; but, why would a business executive deny critical issues affecting their business? Because, to state the obvious, he or she is human… According to Liz Ryan; many leaders don’t know how to deal with crisis, so they pretend it’s not happening. They go into denial…

Massive energy roadblocks show up and they don’t get resolved. Nobody knows what the plan is, or the plan changes every two weeks… New policies spring up to make it even harder to get anything done… The culture is broken but leaders pretend that everything is fine…. There is no foolproof way to escape it but once you recognize the signs you must take steps to mitigate it, e.g.;  find out the real facts and separate rock solid truth from the surrounding haze of assumption… see issues through others point of view… Denial is not about IQ, but about ‘point of view’… If you can’t afford to deny it then recognize it and engage it… 

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In the article Signs of Leader in Denial by George Ambler writes: Face of reality is leaders nightmare… When faced with a difficult situations the natural response is– fight, flight, freeze… All of these reactions have disastrous outcomes. Learning to effectively face and respond to emerging realities is a critical leadership competence. Leaders that fail to face reality, risk creating dysfunction outcomes…  which will cripple an organization ability to respond to; marketplace disruptions, technology, customer expectations… Facing reality may seem logical, and even common sense, but it’s extremely difficult in practice… Recognizing when an organization is in denial through the actions of its leaders is first step to effectively facing and responding to new realities… Ultimately, leaders who avoid reality and choose to live in denial are doomed to fail…

In the article Denial (& Effective Leadership) by Moe Glenner writes: One of most insidious barriers to effective change is a particularly effective flavor of self-defense, otherwise known as denial… You deny that there is a problem, but your acknowledge that there is an issue… You deny its severity, but you acknowledge that the issue needs remedy… you then deny that it’s not your problem, and someone else must deal with it... In other words, you assert that it’s someone else’s problem, not yours, and someone else must fix it… Nowhere are you taking responsibility– the first step to resolution is the ‘admission’… True and highly effective leadership starts with ‘admission’ of an issue… and the ability to be self-accountable in its resolution…

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In the article Dangers of Denial by Ron Ashkenas writes: Great leaders tell it like it is– they focus on reality no matter how painful or unpleasant it might be, and then figure out what to do about it… In contrast, less effective leaders sometimes avoid hard truths, argue with the data, and delay tough decisions…While it’s easy to be critical of leaders who cannot face facts, the truth is that most people engage in denial at one time or another and usually without even knowing it. It’s one of the most common defense mechanisms used to cope with difficult situations… Even the most effective managers engage in some form of ‘wishful hearing’… and interpret it the way they want them to be, instead of how it really is…

There are two principles to keep in mind when dealing with denial in the workplace: Don’t assume that everyone sees the world through the same lens as you: Facts and data are usually open to interpretation, and people have different underlying criteria for how they analyze them. We all emphasize some things and discount others, based on experiences, personality, tolerance for discomfort… Hence, look at situations from multiple angles, challenge underlying assumptions… and eventually you will get more accurate picture of what’s really going on... So while it’s true that great leaders usually don’t get trapped in denial of hard realities, it’s often because they get a lot of help from their team. So yes, denial is alive and well in most organizations but it’s important to remember that it’s a natural human reaction to anxiety-provoking situations, which is why it’s important for teams to help each other see the truth…

In the article Corporate Denial: How It Kills Morale by Jennifer Cross writes: Corporate denial is the classic ‘elephant in the room’… Everyone in the company knows it exists, yet no one in position of leadership is willing to address it… Employees are fearful of calling out bad behavior because organizations protect themselves, not its employees– as the saying goes; denial ain’t just a river in Egypt It’s time to face your challenges, it’s time to look in the mirror and be honest about your company’s corporate denial(s)… it’s time to ask the question: Where is the company in denial? What honest assessments need to be made and steps taken to reform/transform the culture of the organization?

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History has many lessons to teach about role of denial in decline of companies, e.g.; stubborn refusal to admit the changeability of market/consumer demand is a good example… According to Jim Heskett; management use of denial as strategy is a serious issue… Yes, it’s a natural part of human nature and closely related to survival instinct, but it can be extremely destructive… According to Elaine Sihera; denial comes out of fear of being wrong… According to Joe Schmi; denial is the first step in the change process, it’s natural and necessary…

According to Len Bullard; ruthless realism is, itself, pathological and it can deny failure until last second before failure comes… however, the ability to believe that one can save the ship is critical, for it’s that attitude that actually saves it…