Article published in the Philadelphia Business Journal September 24, 2023.
A lesson frequently ignored by leaders is that they must face the brutal facts of reality. Facing the brutal facts and addressing them early can prevent disastrous consequences later.
Valery Legasov, the hero of the HBO miniseries “Chernobyl,” stated, “Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later, that debt is paid.” I cannot think of a more appropriate statement that describes the importance of facing the brutal facts of reality.
I will not comment on the cause of global warming, only say that it’s occurring. One cannot argue against the brutal fact of reality that the earth is getting warmer based on actual data and observation. Warming of the earth has accelerated since at least 1980. The summer of 2023 was the warmest on record according to the data collected.
Yet, some people and leaders continue to ignore these facts and deny that global warming is occurring. Why?
Many times a decision will come down to assessing the risk of various courses of action or in the case of global warming, inaction. Effective leaders know that when a particular course of action or inaction could be catastrophic, one should not take the risk. We need to face the brutal facts of the reality of global warming and take action.
The submersible vessel Titan carrying OceanGate’s CEO Stockton Rush and four paying tourists imploded on June 18 on its voyage to view the Titanic wreck lying at a depth of 12,500 feet.
Rather than titanium or steel, Titan’s hull was constructed using a five-inch thick laminated carbon fiber composite, which is strong when the fibers are under tension but not under compression, especially under the immense water pressure at the depth at which Titanic lies.
Rush failed to listen to experts. Among those are Rob McCallum, an expert on deep sea water submersibles, who wrote an email to Rush in March 2018, stating, “You are wanting to use a prototype … [that has not been certified by an independent third party] in a very hostile place. As much as I appreciate entrepreneurship and innovation, you are potentially putting the entire industry at risk.”
Rush, not facing the brutal facts of reality, caused the loss of his life and the lives of his passengers. Rush ignored this brutal fact of reality.
The space shuttle Challenger exploded on Jan. 28, 1986, 73 seconds after liftoff. The outside air temperature on launch day was 38 degrees Fahrenheit. The O-rings that sealed sections of the solid rocket boosters were designed for a temperature no lower than 53 degrees.
The Thiokol engineers who designed the O-rings warned NASA that the low temperature would cause the O-rings to change from pliable to brittle, resulting in probable fuel leakage and an explosion. Thiokol warned against launch that day.
The launch had already been delayed a number of times for various reasons. One NASA manager is quoted as saying, “I am appalled by your recommendation.”
Another NASA manager said, “My God, Thiokol, when do you want me to launch—next April?”
Thiokol management, facing significant pressure from NASA, eventually acquiesced and agreed that the launch could proceed, resulting in disastrous consequences. NASA didn’t face the brutal facts of reality.
The April 1986 Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster in the former Soviet Union and the oppressive political environment in which it occurred teaches the need to face the brutal facts of reality. This disaster was chronicled in an HBO miniseries.
Valery Legasov, the first deputy director of the Soviet Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy, was the persistent lone wolf up against a Soviet bureaucracy that downplayed the seriousness of the Chernobyl disaster. The Soviets held fast to their doctrinaire belief in the supremacy of Soviet nuclear technology and refused to admit to the world the brutal facts of reality.
Legasov stated, “When the truth offends we lie and lie until we can no longer remember it is even there but it is still there. Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later, that debt is paid” refers to the Soviet denial of the seriousness of the Chernobyl disaster. Legasov’s statement is applicable to global warming, the Titan implosion and the Challenger disaster.
Leaders, don’t ignore the brutal facts of reality about the issues that you face.
Stan Silverman is founder of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership. He can be reached at email@example.com.