Reality Testing: The Little Known But Critical Leadership Skill

Reality testing is an oft-overlooked but critical skill for leaders. In fact, it’s not discussed nearly as much as it should be, which is a shame, because it is important to your leadership skills.

So what is it? It means you are able to assess what is actually going on compared to the fantasy of what’s going on in your head. We’re taken off track by fantasies, day dreams, or biases often, which stop us from being in the here and now – and being aware.

Imagine the CEO of a company walking into a meeting. He starts it on time, covers all the topics on the agenda, and ends it on time. He walks out of the conference room thinking, “Wow, that was a very successful meeting!” He fails to see that no one was engaged in the meeting. No one asked questions or offered new ideas. Instead, everyone was playing Words With Friends on their mobile phones under the table.


He suffers from low reality testing, which might mean:

  • He can’t distinguish the reality of what he’s seeing from the fantasies in his head
  • He’s prone to exaggeration
  • He’s viewed as unrealistic and tuned out from reality
  • He lives in his head

Have you ever gotten passed over for a promotion? You might end up creating in your head all the reasons that you didn’t get that promotion. And possibly out of your fifteen reasons, only one is factual.

A person who has too much reality testing:

  • Could be too objective
  • Doesn’t connect reality to emotions
  • Doesn’t trust or connect outside of fact

We need to use our emotions to help us – this is how we’re wired. We want to be able to use facts and rely on our gut.

Try using these three tips to improve your reality testing:

Practice telling a story or retelling an event using only the facts

Back to our CEO who has highly skilled Words With Friends players working at his company.

“I am amazing at running meetings.”

How do you know that?

“I start on time, I end on time, and I do all the talking.”

“Well I suppose if I was called to a meeting, they want my input.”

And do you ask anyone for input?

“No. <pause> Oh….”

Start noticing when you’re making up something

Our CEO just started coming to that conclusion. We asked him to notice what is reality-based and what’s not.

“But everyone thanks me when I walk out of the meeting!”


“Well I threw that last part in.”

Check in with people when you’re talking to them

Are you making sense? Is this a good idea? Do you think we could do that with our team? Is this a plausible idea?

Take feedback as data. Feedback is imperative to improving reality.

Not sure where you fall on the reality testing spectrum? Take an EQ assessment to find out what your reality testing baseline score is. Contact us today, and we’ll set it up with you.

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