Creative LeadershipEngaging Culture

The Reality Deficit

I heard a commentator yesterday talking about the Arab world and the changes going on in those cultures.  In referring to some Arab leaders who are turning a blind eye to the reality of changing technology, culture, and politics, she used the term “reality deficit.” She felt that these leaders really don’t live in the same reality the rest of the world lives in each day.  When she said the term, I instantly thought of leaders across a wide range of disciplines.  Executives, teachers, pastors, community leaders, politicians,  and many more.

I regularly see men and women who live in a bubble, undaunted by the changing world around them.   Some live in the past because they miss the good old days.  Others live in the future because they don’t like the present.  Still others refuse to confront the truth about their business, churches, or non-profit organizations.

Reality Deficit.
  It’s a great term.  For the most part these people aren’t jerks or bad people.  They’ve just refused to face the truth for so long, they’ve forgotten the language.

How do you overcome a reality deficit?

1.  Open your eyes.  Have the courage to face the truth about your situation.  It may be painful, but it’s the only real truth you have.  Stop passing the buck, blaming others, or living in denial.  Healing starts with facing the illness head on.

2.  Listen.  You’re surrounded by people willing to help.  However, they may be tired of you turning a deaf ear, or ignoring them.  Start listening to their ideas – even the contrary ones.  Friction often sparks new thinking, and breaks the deadlock of denial.

3.  Finally, get a bigger picture.  I love reading the Bible because it’s a constant reminder that there’s a bigger world out there.  Seen from God’s eyes, my problems don’t seem nearly as intimidating.  Perspective matters, and a bigger view helps you see the real relationship of people, things, and ideas.

Do you know someone suffering from a reality deficit?  Any other suggestions for shaking them out of it?


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  1. The reality problem for me was I thought that there was one truth, one reality as neat and universal as a math equation.  As a middle-aged white male in suburban LA, the world works much differently for me than, for example, a middle-eastern woman of any social class or that of my own teenage daughter. We have different realities. And this is the hard part for me, I can sympathize with a woman who lacks my basic civil rights, and I can feel for my daughter’s middle school girl-drama, but I’ll never be able to pull off a “Prince and the Pauper” or “Freaky Friday” and really see the world from their point of view. I guess my problem isn’t a reality deficit, but an overabundance of realities that I can never fully understand.

  2. It’s hard to break through the “I’m right about how we do ministry, and everybody else is wrong” mentality…. even when the applications are 30 + years old. It’s called delusion. Delusion is defined as: 1. false belief – a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence, especially as a symptom of a psychiatric condition. 2. Mistaken notion- a false or mistaken belief or idea about something. The thing about being deceived is….. you’re deceived. In my current position, fiction for change would cost me my job, though I believe in friction if it means change. If I could only cause some friction……… hummm

  3. In ministry, sometime God’s hand of favor is off a ministry for a reason. It is not the fault of the time buyer, the TV producers, the mail program, the web people all the time. Sometime it really is a spiritual matter. Sometimes your motives and vision may not be God’s. The end does not justify the means. If you see your ministry falling in income, it’s time for that reality check in the prayer closet. Will not do any change until you do.

  4. So what about if I’m reading your post, Phil, and I know someone who has a reality deficit?  Your list of ways to overcome only works if I’m the person reading your post AND I’m the person with the reality deficit.  I can’t just go to the person I know, that I consider to have the “illness” and tell him how to get out of the rut he doesn’t even realize he’s in!

  5. A ministry I know was growing and changing and decided to start a newsletter.  So they formed a committee with members from various departments in the organization, including the Marketing Director, the Development Mangager, Customer Service Manager, and even the HR Manager. 

    But, the ministry President wanted to be involved.  He chose to micro-manage every detail of the newsletter.  Even when everyone disagreed with him, he basically insisted on having everything his way.  His reasoning seemed to go along the lines of “This is the way I think…so of course everyone else in the world thinks the same way I do.”

    He basically bullied and badgered and ignored anyone on the committee who had ideas he didn’t like.  Eventually, all of the creative people left the committee including the marketing and development managers.  In the end, all they had left was the CEO, a couple of “yes” types, including the CS and HR managers, who provided little more than proof-reading.

    Needless to say, the newsletter became dull and ineffective, and eventually died. 

    The lesson I learned was, no matter how right I think I am, not everyone sees, thinks, believes, reacts, exactly like I do.  I need to leave room for others to do things differently than I would, and still trust that we will have successful outcomes.

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