During the 2016 election Michelle Obama famously said, “When they go low, we go high.” In her 2020 convention speech she offered what I thought was a much-needed clarification to that first statement:
“Going high means taking the harder path. It means…unlocking the shackles of lies and mistrust with the only thing that can truly set us free: the cold hard truth.”
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently.
That ‘going high’ actually means taking the harder path. It’s not about ignoring our challenges, but confronting them head-on. Personally, I’m no stranger to the harder path. In fact, some would say I seek it out. As a professional actor, turned yoga instructor, turned start-up employee, you can kind of see it in my bones. But in my experience, the harder path is something most people avoid if they can. They’d rather ignore problems and sidestep conflicts. But you can’t outrun your problems forever – they have a sneaky way of catching up to you. And by the time they do, they’re often much bigger than when you started.
In the business world, I’ve seen this pattern play out at every organization I’ve ever worked at, and certainly with the clients that we now work for. It’s a simple formula: Company A ignores small problem that eventually grows into systemic issue – or issues -- that become much harder to fix. They ignore, until some crisis comes along (internal or external) that forces them to fix what is broken. That’s when they bring in the consultants, hoping that they can offer a workshop, a program, or a software that “solves” the problem. “Give us some tested messaging that makes us look like we’re doing the right thing,” they say. “Help us satisfy our employees and/or customers – or maybe just shut them up.” “Show the world that we care – we do! – because look at all this feel-good stuff that we’re doing.”
But that “feel-good stuff” does not generate real and lasting change. It’s a Band-aid, at best. It certainly doesn’t resolve the root cause of the issue and these superficial actions often leave leaders confused and overly defensive, employees dispirited, and customers alienated. It’s a real mess. And I’m sure most of you know exactly what I’m talking about because you’ve been there – either as a leader or an employee. In short, reactivity is a bad crisis management strategy. Doing the uncomfortable work of addressing issues before they become catastrophes is key. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
By now, you probably know where I’m headed with this. There is a common phrase used in psychology and other mindfulness practices: “The only way out is through.” You can’t avoid or ignore your problems, personally or professionally. If you really want to heal, if you really want to make a change, you must face your problems head on. Face “the cold hard truth” as Michelle Obama put it. It’s not comfortable and it certainly isn’t fun. It’s hard work. And it’s why 822 Group was founded in the first place – to help companies do this hard work. So they could transform their crisis into opportunity, and heal systemic organizational chaos. So they could be beacons to other businesses, showing them how to authentically live their purpose and their values.
I am passionate about this work. I believe in it – and I believe it is what is required of us as business leaders in this world today. It’s time to aim high so that we may carve a new and better way forward. What is the uncomfortable issue you’ve been putting off? What is the hard truth that you’ve been reluctant to face? We all have them. We would love to hear from you.