Courtesy of, CC license

By Ed McLaughlin and Wyn Lydecker

I know I’ve been writing about openness and communication and honesty a lot, but bear with me. Previously, I’ve talked about the importance of honesty and openness with employees and clients, in life and at work. I believe they are the bedrock of success and that the most important place for honesty is with yourself. If we’re not honest with ourselves, how can we be honest with others?

More entrepreneurs have foundered on not being honest with themselves than on any other shoal. These shipwrecks take different forms, but under all of them lies a unifying failure point: lack of honesty with oneself.

When I say honesty with yourself, I mean being in touch with the reality of a situation:

When you are out of touch with the reality of a situation, and you let optimism guide your hand rather than prudence, then you are not being honest with yourself. Your business will suffer as a consequence.

When you know an employee is not living up to his charge, but you keep going, hoping he will straighten up and fly right of his own volition, you’re not being honest with yourself, the employee, or the situation. Your business will suffer.

When you’re convinced you have a brilliant product but don’t spend any time working to make it appealing to others – because it’s just so great – you’re not being honest with yourself, and your business will suffer.

When you think you can wear all the hats in your company without bringing specifically skilled people on board, you’re not being honest with yourself, and your business will suffer.

When you don’t take the time to look hard at your company’s problems because you don’t want to see yourself as their source, you’re not being honest with yourself, and your business will suffer.

You see the pattern.

More of these instances, you may notice, are about hoping for the best and ignoring reality. It’s nice to live in the imaginary world of the best case. Honesty is hard.

There are groups helping entrepreneurs and business owners become more honest with themselves. Aileron is an organization that helps business owners in immediate distress. One of their founders and top supporters is Clay Mathilde, who – after his own learning curve of ten years – sold his company, Iams dog food, to Procter and Gamble for $2.3 billion.

Their goal, as expressed in the New York Times article, A Survival Course for the Leaders of Companies in Pain, is to shorten the learning curve for business owners. A lot of that curve lies in learning to face the truth and your role in it. Some business owners come multiple times to the conference. As Aileron’s current president, Joni Fedders, says, “They hear what they are ready to hear,

[and] they come back when they are ready to hear more.”

So far, the problems I’m referring to are chronic – born of suboptimal decisions allowed to fester. Some problems we can’t see coming. We wake up in the morning on an otherwise normal day, and something terrible blindsides us. Some problems require specially trained eyes to see coming – like a finance officer or HR pro. Some, no one could have predicted. In responding to awful surprises, it’s imperative to be honest about where we and our companies stand.

As the head of your organization, you have the biggest responsibility. You’re the one who has to face the truth head on, and take the action that will help the company. Whether a chronic problem has been festering until today, or something bad is just around the corner, steel yourself to be brutally honest with yourself today and every day. It will save you and your company tremendous heartache.

Copyright © 2014 by Ed McLaughlin All rights reserved.