Alternative Facts in Leadership



Key Point: This is a blog on leadership objectivity/transparency and not intended to be a political editorial. 

I recall sitting and having a glass of wine with Marshall Goldsmith, widely acclaimed as one of the most prominent executive coaches in the world. He has been in the boardroom and private offices of the many of the world’s most powerful CEOs. I asked Marshall about his years of observation regarding how CEOs (and ultimately their organizations) get in trouble. He responded without hesitation… “Number one issue is ego. When they start making almost everything about them, and their ego is at the front of decision making, they risk losing objectivity, and worse they surround themselves with people that feed that ego and its version of the truth.”

Imagine a CEO who stands at a company meeting and gives a rousing speech about the strength of their customer service. He declares: “We are the greatest customer service organization in the world. Let me read you some statements from super satisfied customers.” He does, and then asks the audience of employees, “who here knows and believes we are the greatest customer service company ever?” The audience roars and stomps its feet with approval. The CEO, with magnetic charm, charisma, strength of conviction, then piles back into his limousine and asks his loyal staff… “How did I do?” “Oh boss you were friggin’ awesome!” High fives all around.

Now, let’s say the following is the real story: Data and facts show that the company’s customer churn is the highest it’s ever been. Furthermore, customer acquisition is falling off too. However, the last marketing executive who shared that information with the CEO got unceremoniously fired. The CEO’s perspective was that he needed a marketing leader who was with him. He wanted different or “alternative” facts. So sure enough, the new marketing leader showed the CEO a different story. The customers leaving were “not that important…” “Those lost customers were primarily due to just one bad product; a blip.” “Boss, I’m here to tell you that we are and always will be the greatest customer service company in the world.” The CEO is now assured that his beliefs are right. And everyone around the big boss knows the one thing they must do to survive is to tell him what he wants to hear to confirm his beliefs. Truth and objectivity are left behind. This situation and type of environment will ultimately lead to a very bad outcome. Regardless of what anyone wants to believe or hope for, customer churn, and loss, is the worst in the history of the company and fewer customers are joining. So somewhere, sometime the truth will emerge in some very undeniable fashion. Reality will eventually define truth.

Like much of the rest of the world, I’ve been mesmerized watching President Donald Trump through a leadership lens. And putting policy and political principles aside, I am most alarmed by his approach to truth, transparency and objectivity. It’s one thing to bluster and shade facts as the CEO of a real estate company one privately owns. However, when you have arguably the biggest “CEO” (President) of a massive public organization (U.S. government); facts, truth and transparency are vital. PolitiFact scrutinized 365 specific claims by Mr. Trump and found that 2/3 were “mostly false,” “false” and 62 of them “pants on fire false.” The Washington Post found that Trump had made 24 false or misleading statements in his first seven days. Deception and flat out B.S. is worrisome to say the least. What is more troubling, however, is what happens to anyone wanting to point out the facts that may show a different view. If it’s the press, they’re intentionally vilified. (In fact in the world’s worst dictatorships those people of different views end up incarcerated at best, or disappear at worst). I feel sorry for the employees of The National Park Service for showing actual pictures of attendance at the President’s inauguration. They were instructed to search for pictures that confirmed Mr. Trumps claim; that his was the most attended presidential inauguration ever. When a leader sees what he wants to see and nothing else, it’s eventually going to result in a major disaster. It’s not if, but when. Consider this exact quote from Mr. Trump when asked about whether he should feel concerned about his unproven views of wide spread voter fraud: “Not at all because many people feel the same way I do.” Hmm…

Character Moves:

  1. Demand truth, transparency and unvarnished facts/data from our leaders and us. Opinion matters, and facts matter more. 
  1. We advance when we recognize that viewpoints are exactly that… One point of view… Only one. And healthy dialogue and disagreement moves us forward. It’s fighting well and listening well that advances us toward a mutually desired future state. And cognitive diversity is way more important than simple identity diversity (left or right, brown or white, etc). And fighting for then facts and truth really matters; especially when they are not in line with our wishes or belief. That is how we really grow and improve and become richer in the most important way. That makes all of us great… Again, and again. 
  1. Be wary of the egomaniac leader. They often are more interested in being right than doing the right thing. 

 No alternative facts in the Triangle,

– Lorne

One Millennial View: There’s a LOT of chatter about facts these days. Here’s a fact: I agree with all of the Character Moves whole-heartedly. Also, I think this humorous Instagram post from a comedian I follow is a deep breath (and perhaps a chuckle) that we can contemplate.  

Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 6.30.56 PMThat’s all I have to say about that.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis