OK, so the truth is ostriches don’t actually bury their heads in the sand. It’s a useful analogy however when describing people who face conflict or challenge by denying reality. Reflect for a moment on when you have observed leaders fail to acknowledge, let alone confront the issues staring them in the face. Are there times when you prefer to look the other way, rather than tackles issues head on?

Among the most common ways leaders ‘bury their heads in the sand’ is by failing to recognise when people issues demand their intervention. All too often I observe leaders turning a blind eye to behaviours that undermine the success and wellbeing of other people on the team. Some assume conflicts between staff are simply personality clashes that the individuals need to ‘sort out’.

It may seem easier to simply bury your head in the sand and hope people sort their issues out. But the ramifications for those involved and your business can be dire.

The reality is, however, that every leader has a lawful and moral obligation to provide a safe work environment. This includes protecting people from not only physical but also psychological harm. Creating an environment in which every member of the team can thrive begins by expecting people to behave with respect toward one another.

It’s essential that leaders observe, form opinions, and take action relating to behaviour. It may seem easier to simply bury your head in the sand and hope people sort their issues out. But the ramifications for those involved and your business can be dire. Combating bullying, for example, demands that you recognise when people are destructive to your culture and take decisive action to address it.

People issues are far from the only challenges that leaders choose to ignore. Just as common are those who fail to recognise shifts in the competitive landscape that demand fresh thinking. These leaders hang on to ways of operating and outdated strategies because it’s what they know and feel comfortable with. The simple truth, however, is that those who fail to hold their head up and lead with clear vision, typically struggle to navigate the challenges ahead.

The most common ‘head in the sand’ behaviours that hold organisations back from competing well:

Closed topics

While of course it matters that once a decision is made, people get on board and support it. However, it’s dangerous when leaders determine a subject can never be spoken about again. I once heard a leader say, “I don’t care what new information you have. We’ve had this conversation 100 times and I’m just not interested in having it again.”

While it may be true that the new insight doesn’t shift the organisation’s view, in a rapidly changing world this thinking can cause organisations to miss vital clues and shifts in industry direction.

False optimism

Being positive and believing things will work out is typically a good thing. However, when there is little evidence to back that thinking, leaders risk being slow to act.

Having honest insight to circumstances and being willing to face those realities is critical to any leader’s ability to compete well in a fast-paced world. Leaders need to be careful not to adopt an inflated view of their organisation’s success or potential. Being real is critical to driving the outcomes you want.

Denial

Some leaders refuse to acknowledge, even to themselves, the extent to which some issues or challenges matter. Some fail to place adequate priority on issues while others lack of sense of urgency in dealing with them. Teams are entirely more likely to thrive when leaders influence belief in the future balance with honest insight into the realities of getting there.