It Is What It Is…or Is It?

“Leaders who say ‘It is what it is’ are abdicating responsibility, shutting down creative problem solving, and conceding defeat. These leaders have faced a challenge, failed to overcome it, and are now explaining away the episode as an inevitable, unavoidable result of circumstances beyond their control.”

–Major Andrew Steadman, U.S. Army
The Military Leader

With all respect to Major Steadman, I disagree.

While it’s possible to interpret “It is what it is” in a negative way, I hear the phrase differently.

Rather than seeing the phrase as a resignation or expression of frustration, I use “It is what it is” to reflect a healthy acceptance of a situation or event, accompanied by a readiness to move on. Rather than reflecting an attitude of not caring or an inability to change negative circumstances, I believe it’s the conclusion we come to after we acknowledge the reality of our circumstances. Knowing our limitations leads to understanding our strengths—and that’s where true personal power and professional momentum begin.

Being Authentic is Key

I also view the phrase “It is what it is” as the healthy offshoot of careful introspection. When you figure out who you are (some call it your “why” to use another overused catch phrase), you begin to think and act with authenticity. You come to terms with your reality, making the phrase “It is what it is” a place to push off from to achieve success. Being authentic is more important than any other piece of leadership advice you’ll ever get.

What’s Tuesday Look Like?

Most of us will readily concede that leading with our values is important. Are you in touch with yours? When asked about their values, many say “integrity, transparency, and fairness” and other similar stepping stones to the moral high ground. Why not get in touch with more specific values using an exercise I frequently use with my corporate coaching clients. I say to them, “You wake up on a Thursday and find you’ve won the lottery. You are now financially independent. There’s no financial need for you to work anymore; actually, you are free to reimagine your entire life however you want it to look like. So now…what does your Tuesday look like?”

When money is no longer the primary motivator, when the need to pay bills and take care of yourself and your family can be set aside, the choices you then make define what’s important to you. These are your values. By identifying your values, you gain insight into your reality. At that point, you can say “It is what it is” with the insight and understanding necessary to move forward and lead with conviction.

Stop Believing Your Own Lies

Sometimes, without even knowing it, we manipulate the facts to suit our own agenda. I remember a time when I was working with a client and the conversation turned to the infrastructure of their business and the salaries they paid to their key staff. As a benchmark, we talked about the owner’s salary. In all seriousness, the owner told me he only paid himself $60,000 per year. “My salary is lower than anyone else here,” he told me. “I don’t see where any other employee deserves more money when I take the least salary.” I then asked him about his vehicle. Who pays for that? The business, he admitted. Who puts gas in the truck and pays for repairs? Again, the business, he admitted. After we had discussed the many ways in his lifestyle was being supported by the business, allowing him to write off many benefits to him legally using the US tax code, he was forced to see that his total compensation package was more than twice what he had initially named as his salary. He emerged from that conversation with a different viewpoint, but he had to stop believing the lies he had been telling himself (“I’m one of the lowest paid employees here,”) first.

If “It what it is” is what a leader says after taking a clear-headed look at their personal and professional strengths and limitations, I’m all for it. If it helps you get to an authentic view of your own reality, you’ll be positioned for success. When leaders can access their authentic selves, they will attract everything they need—the right team, the right partners…even the right customers will show up. Creating this harmony and balance in their personal and professional lives leads to satisfaction and success.