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Papering Over a Rotting Wall

Dr. Foster Mobley // Wisdom Leading

Writer and director Jane Wagner has said, "Our ability to delude ourselves may be an important survival tool." I understand what she's saying: that sometimes, pretending we're better or stronger than we might actually be can help us get through tough times. But in general, self-delusion - going by the gentler name pretense - is a dangerous, often destructive force, particularly within organizations. I'm going to spend the next few Weekly Wisdoms exploring the faces of pretense. Pretense is literally the act of pretending, of willfully ignoring uncomfortable reality in favor of comfortable illusion. The trouble with pretense is that our uncomfortable realities - failures, shortcomings, fears - need our attention in order to improve. They need to be held up to the light, and pretense hides them from the light. Like papering over a rotting wall, holding on to comforting illusions about who we are and what we're capable of simply prevents us from taking positive action, allowing us to ignore fatal flaws until things collapse around us. Organizations cannot function based on pretense, in part because everybody's flaws quickly become apparent to everyone else, no matter how hard each of us tries to conceal them. Everyone knows which member of the team has a problem with confrontation, which is terrified of risks, and which feels inadequate due to her lack of higher education. It's the leader's job to create a safe space where pretense isn't necessary and where owning up to our shortcomings becomes not frightening but empowering. What pretense are you maintaining? How does it impact your team?

Writer and director Jane Wagner has said, "Our ability to delude ourselves may be an important survival tool." I understand what she's saying: that sometimes, pretending we're better or stronger than we might actually be can help us get through tough times. But in general, self-delusion - going by the gentler name pretense - is a dangerous, often destructive force, particularly within organizations. I'm going to spend the next few Weekly Wisdoms exploring the faces of pretense.

Pretense is literally the act of pretending, of willfully ignoring uncomfortable reality in favor of comfortable illusion. The trouble with pretense is that our uncomfortable realities - failures, shortcomings, fears - need our attention in order to improve. They need to be held up to the light, and pretense hides them from the light. Like papering over a rotting wall, holding on to comforting illusions about who we are and what we're capable of simply prevents us from taking positive action, allowing us to ignore fatal flaws until things collapse around us.

Organizations cannot function based on pretense, in part because everybody's flaws quickly become apparent to everyone else, no matter how hard each of us tries to conceal them. Everyone knows which member of the team has a problem with confrontation, which is terrified of risks, and which feels inadequate due to her lack of higher education. It's the leader's job to create a safe space where pretense isn't necessary and where owning up to our shortcomings becomes not frightening but empowering.

What pretense are you maintaining? How does it impact your team?

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Dr. Foster Mobley

Trusted advisor and coach to admired executives globally for 3 decades, Thought leader on wisdom-based approaches to breakthrough leading, "Lead Coach" for Deloitte's experienced and high potential leader development, Team performance advisor to two NCAA championship teams