Keeping it Real

Most of us listen to podcasts or read blogs sent to us by people whose opinions we respect. One blog I read is by a New York University professor named Scott Galloway who writes on a wide range of topics. I find all of them interesting.


This past fall I read one that made so much sense as it applies to business owners. “Every day, every one of us needs to ask ourselves an important question: Who keeps it real for me? Who will push back, who will tell me I’m wrong … who will save me from myself and the psychosis that’s led to so many successful people’s fall from grace?”


I give Scott a two-thumbs up on this one. All of us need people in our lives who can do that, but especially those who own businesses. Perhaps this is because there are so few people willing to do so. Or because there are so few of us who are willing to listen.


Business owners get used to calling the shots, having our opinions respected, and being conditioned to being right. Sometimes we stand so close to our psychoses that we don’t see them. Yet they can be real threats to our success and should be part of any SWOT analysis we perform. But few of us are brave enough to do this ourselves.


An acquaintance of mine owns a successful plumbing business in the Midwest. Each day from his garage he dispatches several dozen trucks to service his customers. He has a very large garage! He told me once that one of his favorite things to do is to be in the garage early in the morning to hang out with his plumbers. He said they’re real, and that he gets his marching orders for the day from them, not just the other way around. They keep him grounded, although they likely have no idea how real they keep it for him.


Who keeps it real for you? And how do they do so?


Anyone who owns a business needs people like this. What they don’t need is more yes-men. Unfortunately, these people are extremely rare, and they can vouch for the wisdom in the saying, “It’s dangerous to speak truth to power.” They can spot when you’re admiring your trophy case or when you start believing all the positive things people are saying about you (and discounting anything to the contrary). When they see us getting too caught up in ourselves, the really good ones are brave enough to remind us that all fame is fleeting.


Some of us are lucky enough to have spouses or loved ones who keep it real for us. They know us well enough to know when we’re getting “unreal” and they’re usually not afraid to let us know. With love. Some can even spot us becoming unreal in advance and give us a heads-up or offer suggestions on how to avoid it.


For some of us, serving on a board of directors keeps it real for us. We might think we’re really something within our own company, but when we’re on equal footing with other really smart people we realize we’re not one in a million, just one of millions.


People who keep it real for us are able to do so when we need our feet replanted on the ground and when we need our world reframed after a dumpster fire.


A piece of advice I often give clients is for them to hire people who are not only smarter than them but who can stand toe-to-toe with them and respectfully tell them how to keep it real. And then to listen to these people and their wise advice.

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