Why Leaders Cannot Be Indifferent to the Truth: Part 1—You are NOT Entitled to Your Opinion

Remember that CEO I wrote about last month whose brilliant new project was derailed because she did not provide context? There was one more interaction from her launch party that bothered me. When she was defending the company changes via her charts, graphs and other quantifiable measures, an employee responded with a dismissive, “Well, I’m entitled to my opinion.” Is this a valid response or are we enabling ignorance? <spoiler alert: the answer is #2>

Let’s begin with the understanding that “I’m entitled to my opinion” is a logical fallacy. An opinion is a judgment that inherently involves a degree of uncertainty; therefore, using it as a defense only works in select situations. For instance, you can be entitled to your opinion if we’re discussing the latest Star Wars movie. Sure, critics, friends, and sheer sensibility will tell you it’s a fantastic flick, but there is no “right” answer about such a subjective thought.

You cannot, however, harbor a valid opinion when there is a provable, objective, verifiable fact contradicting your inaccurate thoughts. Going back to our Star Wars example, regardless of whether you enjoyed it, which you did, your opinion is irrelevant when discussing whether is was profitable. A simple internet search will tell you that this is a fact. As a result, you are not “entitled” to think otherwise.

Sometimes we can disagree with the facts.—Sean Spicer, White House Press Secretary

So this leads to the next point—what if you don’t know the truth? Guess what, you still aren’t entitled to your opinion. A factually-based question demands a factually-based answer. You’re entitled to learn the truth. You’re entitled to speak with an expert. You’re entitled to pick up your smartphone and look it up. But you are not entitled to purposely remain ignorant.

When you allow your team the option of being entitled to their opinions, you are propagating a culture where thinking is optional, where individuals can reject whatever facts they do not find to be convenient or beneficial. As Deakin University philosophy professor Patrick Stokes said in a recent interview, “the problem with ‘I’m entitled to my opinion’ is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for ‘I can say or think whatever I like’ and, by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful.”

Permitting your team to be entitled to their opinion creates a false equivalence between experts and non-experts, the enlightened and the naïve. In Part 2 of this series, we’ll discuss what happens when a false opinion is turned into an “alternative fact” and how that affects your organization.


The Why Leaders Cannot Be Indifferent to the Truth series:

Part 1—You are NOT Entitled to Your Opinion

Part 2—The Destructive Nature of Alternative Facts (i.e. Lies)

Part 3—Deceiving with Fact-based Lies

Part 4— 10 Ways to Create a Culture of Trust

2 Replies to “Why Leaders Cannot Be Indifferent to the Truth: Part 1—You are NOT Entitled to Your Opinion”

  1. I want folks to share their opinions and ideas in order to provide me, the leader, with a broad range of ideas, but once I make a decision for the organization the entire team is expected to get on board and support. I do not assume that we always know the facts. Hard decisions ofter exist in a much more gray zone – an area devoid of clear facts and assumptions. Those are generally the most difficult decision. As a leader, I foster a culture in which everyone feels empowered to speak up, share their ideas and opinions, but demand that everyone gets on board once the decision is made.

  2. Opinions on a team are only useful in that they may reflect the greater state of the company or the market. Otherwise, it is the leader’s duty to require the team to acquaint itself with the facts, or to conduct research to acquaint the leader with the facts. To seek out and give appropriate weight to expertise. How is that a hard decision? It might be an expensive one, but erroneous wishful thinking will ultimately be much more expensive. Not only should a team be on board when a leader has made a fact-based decision, but its members should themselves adopt a fact-based attitude – including those facts, which need to be placed on an appropriate scale in counterpart to expertise, that not everything is known ahead of time, not all statistics are appropriately obtained, and no one knows everything.

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