Category Archives: Competence

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

Is Substance for Suckers? One More Leadership Lesson from Donald Trump

Back in August, I wrote an article on leadership lessons from Donald Trump. At the time, the GOP Convention was about to begin at which time Trump would officially become the Republican presidential nominee. While I was not thrilled with the thought of a Trump presidency, I was able to provide a few research-supported leadership techniques utilized by Trump that can be beneficial to anyone in or aspiring towards a leadership position.

Such techniques as repeating key words, maintaining a strong vocal presence, and creating a common enemy have earned Trump the highest position in the USA. It doesn’t matter that he has no actual plan to make America great again. Or that his twitter account is filled with nonsensical tirades. Or that he consistently contradicts every statement he makes (often within the same speech). Trump won, and he did so by connecting with the crowd.

Ah, the crowd—that nameless, faceless group of supposed likeminded people. If you’ve read James Surowiecki’s popular book Wisdom of Crowds you may think the populace is smarter than the individual (and since Trump lost the popular vote there may be merit in this argument). I, however, continue to side more towards Gustave Le Bon’s classic 1895 study The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind.

In his research, social psychologist Le Bon discusses the attributes of those who successfully lead crowds. First, he describes them as “more frequently men of action than thinkers.” They “are not gifted with keen foresight” but that’s considered to be a good thing since it prevents them from expressing doubt and inactivity. Confidence is king and these leaders display it in droves.

Next, crowd-based leaders are able to stir an arousal of faith through ideals pertaining to religion, politics, or societal ideas. Their intensity of faith gives power of suggestion to their words and, according to Le Bon, influences “men gathered in a crowd [to] lose all force of will, and turn instinctively to the person who possesses the quality they lack.”

The great events of history have been brought about by obscure believers, who have had little beyond their faith in their favour.—Gustave Le Bon

The final attribute is simplicity. Leaders of crowds deliver boiled-down concepts presented in a straightforward, uncomplicated manner. Context is distracting, as is an overreliance on details.

Notice that these three attributes do not include expertise, know-how, or anything resembling substance. They are all predicated on how a leader presents himself—confidence trumps foresight, faith in the institution trumps strategy, and simplicity trumps intellectual discourse.

There was a recent study in Industrial and Labor Relations Review stating, “the benefit of having a highly competent boss is easily the largest positive influence on a typical worker’s level of job satisfaction.” Sure, you may believe employees are far happier when their leader has a deep technical expertise in the core activity of the business, but let’s get real. We had a presidential nominee with more technical expertise than any other candidate in the history of the country, and she did not win.

If you decide to model Trump, stop combing through your morals, beliefs, and worldviews to formulate an ideology. Don’t waste your time building expertise to become an individual of substance. To be a leader in the vein of our new President, all you need is a brand… and that brand is winning. Display an air of self-assurance. Commit to a sentiment, not any one belief. Then deliver it in one-word declarations.

In the end, I’m still betting on competence. And though I am interested in how emulating Trump’s leadership style pans out for you, you may first want to wait and see how it works for the United States.

Should We Limit Power to Those in the Know? Democracy Through Epistocracy

voting-jfkIn this endless political season, I’m amazed by the number of people who have no idea what they are talking about. I am not referring to the individuals who disagree with me; I’m talking about those who have no grasp of basic facts. They are not dumb (although I wouldn’t necessarily call them smart, either). No, they are uninformed, without a core understanding of civics, U.S. history, or how the country operates. That’s why I’d like to propose an alternative form of democracy, epistocracy.

Epistocracy is similar to a typical democracy. Both are a representative form of government with limits on power, checks and balances, elected officials, and judicial oversight. The difference is that while democracies allow every citizen an equal right to vote, epistocracies dole out these rights based on knowledge, competence, and/or expertise.

I’m tired of ignorance held up as inspiration, where vicious anti-intellectualism is considered a positive trait, and where uninformed opinion is displayed as fact.―Philip Plait, author of Bad Astronomy

The intent of an epistocracy is not to limit power to a selected few, but to ensure that elected officials are chosen by well-informed, “qualified” citizens. As a result, we can avoid being subjected to the judgments of those who do not comprehend the issues. The challenge is in how we define “qualified.”

There are many ways to determine whether someone is properly informed to be eligible to vote. Some have suggested requiring people to pass the citizenship test when registering to vote. Others allow everyone to vote, but for your vote to count, you must correctly answer a few simple questions that pertain to the issues and candidates on the ballot.

If either of these options were to be chosen, the next challenge is deciding who will draft the qualifying questions. Both parties are likely to exert their influence in a way that supports their partisan leanings. Plus, the questions need to be written in a way that avoids preferential treatment based on education or socio-economic status.

If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.—Mark Twain

If enacting an epistocracy sounds absurd, you should consider that you are already utilizing some of its concepts in your workplace. As I’ve previously written, your organization is not a democracy, but you are “qualifying” the people who work there. Interviews, resumes, assessments, background screenings, reference checks, etc. are all intended to help you choose employees who possess the knowledge, competence, and expertise to work in your hallowed halls.

Many pundits and political candidates have suggested that government run more like a business. If this is the case, don’t we need a selection process to determine who can participate? Companies employ litmus tests to ensure their decision makers are informed. Why should participating in our government require any less effort?

Hillary Clinton: Three Leadership Lessons from the Democratic Presidential Candidate

hilary clintonAuthor’s Note: This article is not intended to be an endorsement of a candidate. The leadership tactics we will discuss are proven to be effective in persuading others and bolstering influence. How you choose to use these techniques is up to you.

Since today kicks off the beginning of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, it is a good time to discuss the leadership techniques utilized by the projected Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. When describing her methods, hard work, thorough understanding of the issues, and the desire to achieve a particular goal were my initial descriptors. Unfortunately, the only tips I could pull from this list were work harder, read more, and practice goal planning. These are all recommended, but after more thought, here are (another) three techniques we can learn from Clinton:

Fight Through Adversity

Whether it’s a result of her views, actions, or a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” Hillary Clinton has endured through almost thirty years of harsh, negative inquiry. If this sounds overstated, a Harvard University study showed that Clinton’s media coverage was more negative than that of any other candidate in 2015.

clinton media bias

Media Tenor, January 1-December 31, 2015. Tone figures based on positive and negative statements only. Neutral statements are excluded.

In 11 of the 12 months studied, Clinton’s “bad news” outpaced her “good news” by a wide margin—in the first half of 2015, negative statements outpaced the positive by three to one; the second half was three to two, negative over positive. This negative coverage can be equated to millions of dollars in attack ads, contributing to the increase in her unfavorable poll ratings. And this was not based on conservative-leaning media bias. The study analyzed thousands of news statements by CBS, Fox, the Los Angeles Times, NBC, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.

I don’t write this to defend Clinton or to disparage the media. My point is that it takes a tremendous amount of resilience to persevere through adversity… and she’s done it with an impressive track record of professional successes that will be topped off this week with the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

Most of us will never be subjected to the virile attacks Clinton has experienced; this does not mean we can cower when confronted with hardship. A leader without resilience is a leader who is short-lived in their role. If you desire to do anything of substance, you will face setbacks. Resilience is how you recover. Here are a few ways you can enhance your ability to persevere:

  • Operate with a sense of purpose; sustain your key values and principles
  • Disregard sensationalism and hype; maintain perspective with logic and facts
  • Give yourself time to bounce back from the obstacle without wallowing in pity
  • Learn from your mistakes and move on
  • Remain focused on achieving the goal(s)

Don’t Minimize the Power of Predictability

Since reaching national notoriety in the 1990s, Clinton has presented herself in a consistent manner—a driven professional with high standards and even higher expectations. This ability to remain consistent may not sound exciting, but it is a foundational leadership attribute that followers actively seek.

Research in the Journal of Business Ethics found that self-consistency is a predecessor to authentic leadership and followers’ satisfaction with supervisor, organizational commitment, extra-effort, and team effectiveness. Another study in the journal Human Relations found that consistency results in a significant positive interaction with mission, adaptability, and involvement in predicting market-to-book ratios, sales growth, and overall performance. Google echoed these findings after conducting a widespread study of their hiring practices to determine what makes a successful leader.

When [Google] crunched the numbers, what they found out was remarkable for its overlooked common sense. Leaders must be predictable and consistent, because then employees grasp that within certain parameters, they can do whatever they want. In other words, when managers are predictable, they remove a roadblock from employees’ path—themselves. On the flip side, if your manager is all over the place, you’re never going to know what you can do, and you’re going to experience it as very restrictive.— Walter Chen, CEO of iDoneThis

If your team can predict what you are going to do, they won’t waste energy trying to forecast your mood, prophesize your priorities, or change course with every erratic decision. They are freed up to do their job.

Express Your “Humanness”

When people describe Clinton, they tend to discuss her in professional terms—industrious, multitask-oriented, organized, goal-driven. While these seem like the qualities you would desire in a President (or any other leader), there is something that has not connected with many in the public arena.

David Brooks, a political commentator who leans sharply on the conservative side of the bipartisan spectrum, recently wrote,

Agree with her or not, she’s dedicated herself to public service. From advocate for children to senator, she has pursued her vocation tirelessly. It’s not the “what” that explains her unpopularity, it’s the “how” — the manner in which she has done it.

This “how” is the need to exhibit a multifaceted, well-rounded version of one’s self. Poll after poll shows that people do not feel like they know Clinton’s non-political side. They know she’s a mother and grandmother, but they see her more as a career-minded workaholic.

For whatever reason, people want to know what their leaders do for fun. A 2004 poll found that voters favored George W. Bush over John Kerry because they “would rather have a beer with Bush than Kerry.” Bill Clinton surged in the polls when he played the saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show. And Barak Obama always garners positive press when he releases his annual NCAA Basketball Championship bracket.

According to research by psychologists Maurice Schweitzer and Adam Galinsky, leaders need to strike a balance between warmth and competence. They illustrate this theory with an accomplished psychiatrist who would employ one of three tactics when he first met a new patient: drop a pencil, tell a bad joke, or spill his coffee. His intent was to show his fallibility, i.e. warmth. Combined with his display of competence, including his office of diplomas, published books, and awards, the doctor was perceived as being more trustworthy and more proficient.

Likability counts, so if you want to be a more effective leader, show your team who are when you’re off the clock. Don’t downplay how hard you work, but throw in a few personal details. Talk about your weekend. Discuss your kids. Tell self-deprecating stories. Basically, display your vulnerability so you can be more relatable.

Hillary Clinton has run a solid campaign to reach this next stage in her career. Many factors have led to this moment, but her resilience and consistency have been key ingredients in her candidacy. As I wrote in my preceding article on Donald Trump’s leadership lessons, if you support her, these techniques are working. If you don’t, sharpen your skills to help defeat her. Either way, let’s hope this election cycle can become more competence and issue-based, and move away from the less substantive bouts that have become all too commonplace. It may not be as exciting, but is excitement really your measure of a world leader?