“Real Sees Real” – Arden Whitlow

February 5th, 2022

First, what does “real” mean? To me it means you act with intention for others.  You act for your customers, your partners, your employees, your family, your friends, your community.  You are committed to operating in such a way that others around you get better and if that benefits you great, but it’s not a “what’s in it for me first” mindset.

What is a “real” person bad at?  Managing up, keeping quiet about things that will hurt customer, employees, etc., being a “yes woman,” basically going through the motions. 

Real doesn’t have to be in your face – but it has to be consistent or else it’s not real.  Don’t fight for your employee’s raises with HR but then cave with the CRO.  Your customers can’t get through to support and no-one is taking any action, contact the CEO.  You aren’t there to save you own ass; you are there for others.

Being real is generally not the path of least resistance.  One of my best examples of how my realness was acknowledged….ultimately was when I was thirty-three.  We had just had a series of events result in an activist joining our Board, our CEO being ousted with an interim put into the role and had hired a vcr salesman to run our go-to-market.  He was not real.  After a few months I contacted our interim-CEO and told him, I want to stay but can’t work for the vcr salesman.  He said he’d think about it and call me back later in the week.  He called me back to ask if I’d changed by mind…..like no interim CEO-dude, I’m not changing my mind….and that’s all you have to say???  I went to a friendly Board member but he didn’t act either.  So, I left the company (being real has many real consequences).  I was gone about two years when the new CRO, who had earlier that year fired the vcr salesman, saw me at an event.  I had never met the CRO before.  He beelined it to me, introduced himself and said I was right about the vcr salesman.  I thanked him for saying so as he really didn’t have too.  He and I stay in touch to this day….three companies later for both of us.  Being real made me stand out to the CRO even though we never worked together at the company.

Real sees real is a powerful way to frame where you work.  Ask yourself, who gets promoted at your company – those who drive better outcomes for customers, employees and partners or those who tell the boss they are amazing leaders (especially when they are not) and when said boss says jump, they say how high.  If it’s the latter, real people won’t succeed there and the company won’t be successful either.  It’s possible things will change but it will take a lot of time and work.  Life is short, determine if you have the time to wait.

For me, being real is the only option.  I am sure it has to do with being first born, being from western NY, and a myriad of other early life things.  Therefore, I own it and try to cultivate it with my teams.  My network, my true network, is full of other real humans and for that I am grateful.  It is also a way to simplify how you spend your time – real people are always the priority.