We were sitting around a large, custom-designed table in a beautifully appointed boardroom. You could see the cold autumn wind blowing the trees outside the office as a single, well-placed comment heated up the room. The topic was one individual’s decision related to his family business and the remark came from a member of the peer group comprised of family business executives whose storied family companies are staples of their industries in the US and around the world. The group meets quarterly to discuss topics germane to family businesses – family dynamics, succession planning, estate planning, etc. – as well as topics germane to any organization – how to grow, how to inspire teams and leaders, and how to build cultures that will last. This group of family leaders has been meeting for years with a single aim: support one another through family and organizational dynamics with the goal of sharing knowledge, experience, laughter, and the occasional tear. As the consultant and leader of the group, my role is to cultivate meaningful conversation, challenge group members, provide a family business perspective, and help the group hold each other accountable, and in that moment, both challenge and accountability took center stage as the comment echoed off the walnut walls: “Listen, I’m sorry to do this, but I need to ring your reality bell right now.”
The comment was powerful and came from a place of respect as it cut through the clutter of introspective questioning like none other could. It was well placed, perfectly timed and had the impact it intended, forcing the recipient to stop and truly reflect on the facts of the situation at hand.
As I was flying home from the meeting, the comment continued to resonate inside: “I’m sorry to do this, but I need to ring your reality bell” and I couldn’t shake the thought, “What in my life needs the reality bell rung.”
We all tend to put on blinders to the realities of our situations. We don’t want to see the truth in our relationships, our work, our health, or our habits. We lie to ourselves daily, usually driven by fear and shame. And yet, these blinders and the daily lies we live, do nothing to improve our lot in life. It is only when the reality bell is rung that we can choose to pick up the mantle of responsibility necessary to make the change (often radical ones) that we know we need to make.
In his book Principles, Ray Dalio, the billionaire hedge fund founder, and self-proclaimed hyperrealist, articulates his perspective on ringing the reality bell like this, “Understanding, accepting, and working with reality is both practical and beautiful. I’ve learned to appreciate the beauty of all realities, even harsh ones, and have come to despise impractical idealism. Don’t get me wrong: I believe in making dreams happen. The pursuit of dreams is what gives life its flavor. My point is that people who create great things aren’t idle dreamers: They are totally grounded in reality. Being hyperrealistic will help you choose your dreams wisely and then achieve them.”
While Dalio can be a contentious character in some circles, his adherence to radical candor and truth has merits for all of us, even if only in the soft whisper of that inner monologue that plays in our head every time we are faced with the choice: will I own this part of me or not?
As a coach and consultant, my job is to help my clients ring their reality bells by shining light on those areas of darkness not seen, or more often, avoided. However, this is not a plug for me nor coaching, this is a plug for each of us to climb our own towers of truth and start ringing the hell out of the bells. We owe it to ourselves to hear the bells of truth ringing in our ears every time we’re tempted to ignore the facts in front of us.
For many who celebrate the holidays, the coming weeks will be a time of joy, sadness, love, and potentially loss. Use these coming weeks to start your own journey of truth and celebrate the joy of the season with a choir of bells ringing in your ears.