10 Ways to Keep “Post-truth” From Crippling Your Leadership

A few things have happened recently that increase performance pressure on character-based leaders who are dedicated to doing what’s right:

  • The Oxford Dictionary announced the word post-truth as its 2016 word of the year. Post-truth relates to or denotes “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
  • CNN’s Scottie Nell Hughes said in an NPR interview that, “There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts.”

Talk about shifting ground! So, for those leaders who see value in embracing differences and who are intent on preserving integrity, truthfulness, and authenticity—leadership basics that could become quaint notions should post-truth practices and an absence of facts become normalized—here are ten things to do to keep these basics front and center in leading yourself and others.

10 things to do to keep “post-truth” from crippling your leadership

1) Hold yourself and those on your team accountable for full truthfulness instead of what author Ralph Keyes calls “ledger-book” morality. “Ethics are judged on a sliding scale…If we add up truths and lies we’ve told and find more of the former than the latter, we classify ourselves honest…Conceding that his magazine soft-pedaled criticism of advertisers, one publisher concluded, ‘I guess you could say we’re 75 percent honest, which isn’t bad.’”

2) Manage paradoxes. Effective leadership is an oscillating mix of head and heart:  managing both facts and feelings as well as logic and emotion. Neither takes precedence over the other because both elements are needed for success.

3) Encourage healthy debate and diversity of thought, opinion, and perspective. Position those who disagree not as being wrong, losers, or the scapegoat. Don’t link likability with being agreeable; they are totally separate concepts.

Diversity: the art of thinking independently together. ~Malcolm Forbes

4) Be eternally vigilant for opinions masquerading as facts, and correct people when they confuse them. Facts are concrete realities verifiable by observation, consistency with the rules of a symbol system such as 2+2=4, or applying objective standards of value such as 'stealing is wrong.' Opinions are self-reports that represent a belief, view, sentiment, or conception that can be biased.

5) Be transparent. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Hidden agendas serve no one well. Own up, not double down on, being wrong. James O’Toole and Warren Bennis point out, “Leaders who are candid and predictable—they tell everyone the same thing and don’t continually revise their stories—signal to followers that the rules of the game aren’t changing and that decisions won’t be made arbitrarily. Given that assurance, followers become more willing to stick their necks out, make an extra effort, and put themselves on the line to help their leaders achieve goals.”

6) Recognize and reward those who have the courage and candor to speak truthfully and tactfully about their position without being closed-minded to alternate points of view.

Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy. ~Isaac Newton

7) Welcome and manage the tensions between what Dr. Jean Lipman-Blumen calls “interdependence (overlapping visions, mutual problems, and common goals) and diversity (diverse nature of individuals, groups, and organizations) by making diversity and inclusion a business priority just like any other specified business target. In an increasingly connected, technologically savvy, and fast-paced world, difference is the new normal. Paul Block, CEO of Merisant, observes, “People with different lifestyles and different backgrounds challenge each other more. Diversity creates dissent, and you need that. Without it, you’re not going to get any deep inquiry or breakthroughs.”

8) Make sharing the truth, hard facts, constructive criticism, etc. easy to do. Discourage groupthink and don’t shoot the messenger.

When you resort to attacking the messenger and not the message, you have lost the debate. ~Addison Whithecomb

9) Don’t give yourself a hall pass by believing your “little lies” are OK while those of others are unacceptable. Practice the South African philosophy of “ubuntu,” which social rights activitist Desmond Tutu describes as “the essence of being human…it embraces hospitality, caring about others, being able to go the extra mile for the sake of others. We believe that a person is a person through another person, that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably with yours. When I dehumanize you, I inexorably dehumanize myself. The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms and therefore you seek to work for the common good because your humanity comes into its own in belonging.”

10) Win by not playing the “post-truth” game.

Ideas and actions move from the fringe to the mainstream when we allow them to do so. It’s up to us whether we’re complicit or not in allowing that to happen.

I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody. ~Lily Tomlin

What else needs to be done?

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