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What If? Or, What Is? (#194)


The Confident Leader


When faced with challenges in life, my wife and I used to ask ourselves, “What if…” What if this happens? What if that doesn’t happen? After years, we realized something fundamental… 

“You’ll never get anywhere if you go about what-iffing like that.”

―  Roald Dahl (British author of children’s literature)

This Week’s Edition

Reality Testing: the capacity to see things objectively, the way they are, rather than the way we wish or fear them to be. 

Clarify Your Thinking

After years of asking ourselves, “what if…?” we realized that question was a waste of time. We couldn’t create enough scenarios to account for every potential variable. So, we stopped. We stopped asking ourselves, “what if…?”

This left us with a huge conversational void. It seemed as if we didn’t have anything to talk about. The “what ifs…” had consumed so much talk time. Since then, we’ve found plenty to discuss all the while working “what if…” out of our vocabulary.

I was recently reunited with the phrase “what if…” from a speaker, Katherine Wolf. She had a massive stroke at 26 and has been severely disabled since. In speaking about her life since the incident, she said she had plenty of opportunities to ask, “What if…?”

  • What if this hadn’t happened? 
  • What if I didn’t have to suffer? 

Her main point resonated with me. She does not live a life of “what if…”, she proactively chooses to live a life of “what is!” To approach life any differently would have her either wallowing in her circumstances or living in a fantasy that doesn’t exist. 

Katherine’s message is instructional for leaders. Are you playing “what if…”?

  • What if these employees were more qualified? 
  • What if we weren’t in a high inflationary recession?
  • What if my leader understood me better? 
  • What if my clients responded the right way?

Old Thinking: What if things were different? If they were, then I would be able to lead well and get things done. My circumstances are holding me back.

New Thinking: Things are the way they are. I am smart. We can figure this out without wishing they were different. 

Thoughts Lead to Actions

Reality testing is an emotional intelligence skill – the ability to see things objectively as they are, not as we wish or fear them to be. 

Lack of reality testing often precludes leaders from seeing the objective facts needed to make effective decisions. This can result in leaders who are at greater risk of derailment:

  • Perpetual ineffective decision-making 
  • Misreading cues from their surroundings
  • Seeing things from a singular point of view
  • Setting misaligned goals 

Leaders can ask themselves these questions to help achieve maximum objectivity: 

  • What is the evidence for my thinking/feeling?
  • Could there be a different explanation?
  • How could I test that different explanation to find out?

Confident leaders are skilled at seeing what is while resisting the urge to be distracted by what-ifs. Take these steps to improve your skill of reality testing:

Step 1: Pursue objectivity by asking your team for feedback on situations to source additional points of view.

Step 2: Spend your weekly Leadership Thinking Time reflecting on your circumstances. Ask yourself open-ended questions to source additional facets of the situation.

Step 3: Take an emotional intelligence assessment to understand your baseline skill level on Reality Testing. 

If you suffer from a perpetual state of “what if…?” this newsletter was written for you. Tough as your circumstances may be, facing the reality of the situation is the most effective way of working through it. 

Boost Your Performance

Get on track to win your week. Take the Win Your Leadership Week survey. Spend 5 minutes and alter the trajectory of your next 5 days!  

We’ve had 41 leaders leverage this leadership tool to win their week. One leader said, “These questions are similar to the conversations I have with my work accountability partner, but better!” 

Every year you get 50 attempts to get it right. Let’s take it one week at a time. Let’s win the week! 

What’s Your Opinion?

On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your reality testing? Share it with me at Let us know if you need assistance in this area.

If you are going to be a leader, you might as well be a good one. Don’t let doubt count you out. Have a confident week!

Robin Pou, Chief Advisor and Strategist

We live to make bad leadership extinct so forward this newsletter to others who strive to be confident leaders. 


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What is “The Confident Leader”?

During the Covid-19 Pandemic, I began a video series called “Panic or Plan?” It was designed to equip leaders to navigate the doubt they experienced and to rise in the confidence they needed to lead during turbulent times. It took off. I then started this newsletter to equip leaders in the same fashion each week for the doubt that crashes across the bow of their leaderSHIP.