Category Archives: Honesty

How ‘Fake News’ Damages Your Company and What You Can Do About It

Since the election, the idea of “fake news” has been prominently debated. Whether from willful blindness or a general sense of gullibility, stories that appear real have spread throughout social media…but this is not a new phenomenon.

200 years ago it was reported that after cutting down a cherry tree, a six year old George Washington guiltily told his father, “I cannot tell a lie…I did cut it with my hatchet.” Similarly, Paul Revere didn’t ride through the streets of Concord, Massachusetts yelling, “The British are coming” and Isaac Newton did not discover gravity when an apple fell on his head.

While these stories are technically fake news, they are distinguished from today’s fake news in their intent. When Mason Locke Weems penned the cherry tree tale in 1806, he was trying to illustrate Washington’s virtue so as to inspire young Americans to emulate him. Elias Phinney relayed Revere’s ride as an act of patriotism. And John Conduitt used Newton’s apple story as a metaphor so the less educated could understand the concept of gravity.

The fake news in our current political climate is more in the vein of Marie Antoinette’s, “Let them eat cake.” This quote was inaccurately attributed to Antoinette when a French Revolutionary anti-establishment pamphlet distributed it as a cartoon. In publishing such an untruth, the author was not trying to generate a metaphorical narrative; rather he was seeking to fuel the insurrection and overthrow of the French government.

As Antoinette can attest, fake news is inherently destructive in nature. Whether it’s from protesters or government leaders, these stories have no purpose but to disparage those with opposing views, stoke irrational fears, and spread falsehoods. There is no way to rationalize it; if an argument is well-intentioned, the truth should be sufficient to convince the masses. If it’s not, you need a better argument.

Consider how your company reacts when a malicious rumor is started. These localized fake news stories have long lasting negative ramifications on your team. Not only are they distracting, but the fabrications harm reputations, working relationships, and the overall culture. This then affects performance, productivity, and the bottom line.

There are two action items we can learn here. One, we need to do a better job identifying and quashing fake news. If you think this sounds easy, think again. A recent Stanford study found that students cannot determine fake news from real news. This lack of critical thinking is particularly alarming considering their nonstop media consumption. Participants had a hard time distinguishing advertisements from news articles and were unable to identify where information came from. In addition, more than 80% believed a native ad identified with the words “sponsored content” was a real news story AND only 25% recognized and were able to explain the differences between a verified Twitter account and one that simply looked legitimate.

This finding indicates that students may focus more on the content of social media posts than on their sources. Despite their fluency with social media, many students are unaware of basic conventions for indicating verified digital information.—Sam Wineburg & Sarah McGrew

The second action item is that as leaders we must take responsibility for this fakery within our organizations. This begins with educating those on our team to be discernable absorbers of information. When new information is presented, teach them to evaluate it based on the following questions:

  1. Do you know the source? Is he/she reliable and trustworthy?
  2. Can you verify the information?
  3. How does it measure up to what you already know?
  4. Does it make (common) sense?
  5. Do you understand the complexity of the information?
  6. Do you understand the context of the information?
  7. What biases do you have that could affect how you interpret the information?
  8. Have subject matter experts corroborated the information? What about the company’s executive team?
  9. How current is the information?
  10. What is the intent of the person disseminating the information?

Fake news is an epidemic. Thankfully, you are in a position to be the Senior Editor of your organization’s “news” outlet. When fake news stories arise, no matter how trivial, report the truth. Don’t allow even one minor fib to become part of the dialogue. The more you practice this, the more fact-checking will become engrained in your culture.

Why Leaders Cannot Be Indifferent to the Truth: Part 3—Deceiving with Fact-based Lies

Check out Part 1 of this series where we discuss the logical fallacy of believing you are entitled to your opinion and Part 2 involving the destruction nature of alternative facts (lies).

We’ve been talking about the deceptive nature of alternative facts (i.e. lies) and their effects on the workplace; however, there are many practices beyond lies that can have equally destructive results. One of the most common is paltering.

While a lie entails either the active use of false statements (lying by commission) or holding back relevant information (lying by omission), paltering involves the use of truthful statements to influence someone’s beliefs by giving a false or distorted impression. For example, let’s say you are asked about a prior lawsuit where your company was charged with housing discrimination. You can lie, you can change the topic, or you can palter like Trump in the September 26th presidential debate:

We, along with many, many, many other companies, throughout the country—it was a federal lawsuit—were sued. We settled the suit with zero—no admission of guilt. It was very easy to do. But they sued many people.

Trump’s response is technically a truthful statement in that he did settle the suit and he did not admit guilt; however, it presents a misleading sense of innocence. In reality, Trump signed a consent decree, which included “pages of stipulations intended to ensure the desegregation of Trump properties.” And while many companies have been sued for housing discrimination, this lawsuit was 1) “squarely aimed” at Trump and 2) his company was the only one sued at that particular time.

Trump has shown that stating the aggregate truth is not one of his more predominant traits, though let’s not get too sanctimonious about our own ability to be honest. Research finds that on average, people tell one to two lies a day, most often to family members, friends, and work colleagues. These tend to be harmless white lies, but they are lies. Leaders are no different.

I’ll go into my inbox and look at an email I was supposed to reply to weeks ago. And I’ll look out the window and think about it for a few seconds, and then write, ‘I’ve been thinking about your email.’ I’m clearly creating the impression that I’ve been thinking this over for the last three weeks, when in truth I’ve been thinking about it for the last second and a half. I’m creating a false impression by telling truthful things—but yet it doesn’t feel as unethical as lying.—Todd Rogers, associate professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School

Leaders report paltering as often as they lie by omission and more often than they lie by commission. In the study, 52% stated they palter in some or most of their negotiations, whereas 21% said they lie by commission. When asked why, participants felt that paltering is more ethically acceptable than lying (by commission and by omission).

A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology went even further to say that most people who palter see nothing wrong with it. According to co-author Francesca Gino, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, “People seem to be using this strategy because in their minds, they’re telling the truth, so they think they’re being honest.” In some cases, the leader even shifts responsibility to the audience for believing what the leader said; judging the audience for not paying closer attention to what exactly was articulated.

While these leaders may erroneously take the moral high ground, that does not change the damage paltering is doing to their reputation and relationships. In the aforementioned study, they often benefit in the short term, but when the deception is exposed the recipients of paltering feel misled, code the individual as a liar, and are less likely to work with them again.

Avoid the repercussions of truth-based deceit. You may take satisfaction in your plausible deniability, but the world is a small place. People talk and you do not need a negative stigma that may likely stick far longer than you’d prefer. If you do not want to be re-branded as a con artist, in Part 4 of this series we’ll discuss what you as a leader can do to cultivate and enforce a culture that emphasizes truthful facts, truth tellers, and truth seekers.

 

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

Why Leaders Cannot Be Indifferent to the Truth: Part 2—The Destructive Nature of Alternative Facts (i.e. Lies)

Check out Part 1 of this series where we discuss the logical fallacy of believing you are entitled to your opinion.

While some leaders use their opinion as a weapon against critical thinking, there’s a dangerous new trend that reclassifies opinions as alternative facts. Just as you are not entitled to your opinion, you are not entitled to blatantly lie or recreate reality to better suit your convenience.

Alternative facts go beyond the concept of post-truth where “facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” While it may be dismissed in favor of a passion-based sentiment, at least post-truths involve a comprehension of the facts.

The concept of alternative facts became more prevalent when Meet the Press’ Chuck Todd questioned statements made by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer concerning the size of the turnout for Trump’s inauguration. When asked, Counselor to the President Kellyann Conway told Todd that Spicer was only offering alternative facts, to which Todd replied, “Alternative facts are just falsehoods.”

If audience size seems like a minor lie, you are only half wrong. Sure, there are more serious issues to lie about, but as research shows, a lie (even a small one) can have destructive effects. For now, let’s forgo the ethical argument, or the Golden Rule, or the simple societal norm that lying is bad. Instead, focus on how lies impact your employees.

According to Harvard University psychologist Daniel Gilbert, people see the world in two steps. First, for a brief moment, we hold the lie as true: We must accept it so as to understand it. For instance, if the President were to erroneously say, “I have been on [Time magazine’s] cover, like, 14 or 15 times. I think we have the all-time record in the history of Time magazine,” we must for a second accept that he holds this record. Only then do we go to the second step—accepting or rejecting it.

While the first step happens automatically, the second step involves actively deciding whether or not to believe the statement. And too often, this mentally strenuous verification does not occur. As Gilbert writes, human minds, “when faced with shortages of time, energy, or conclusive evidence, may fail to unaccept the ideas that they involuntarily accept during comprehension.”

Based on our limited cognitive resources, when we fail to unaccept an idea, our minds have become so overwhelmed with (potentially) false statements that we stop trying to sift through to the truth. The improbability of the statement is irrelevant; with time, our brains give up trying to figure out what is true.

It’s the bed-of-nails principle: If you step on one nail, it hurts you; if you step on a thousand nails, no single one stands out, and you’re fine.—John Oliver

Since people become more susceptible to lies when they are told with higher frequency, it may sound easier to lead through lies—who doesn’t want to say whatever they want without having to defend it? Of course you will lose all credibility and quickly build a reputation of fraudulence that delegitimizes both you and your organization, but think of the time you’ll save trying to persuade the masses.

Sarcasm aside, once a group is more receptive to lies, they are more receptive to everyone’s lies, not just yours. If you aren’t so bold as to tell outright lies but do not want to be bothered with the fact-checkable truth, in Part 3 of this series we’ll discuss the effects of sprinkling your argument with a few untruths, otherwise known as paltering.

 

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

Trust is a One-Way Street: Why It Matters, How It’s Declining, and What Leaders Can Do About It

Leadership is built on one core concept—trust. Without it, you can forgo every other attribute espoused by management experts. Confidence without trust is an egomaniac. Charisma without trust is a charlatan. And vision without trust is a hypocrite. This was supported by a meta-analysis study from leading trust researcher and Georgetown University professor Daniel McAllister.

Published in the Academy of Management Journal, McAllister concluded that leaders viewed as trustworthy generate a culture where team members:

  • display greater innovation, agility, and responsiveness to changing conditions
  • take risks because they believe they will not be taken advantage of
  • do not expend needless time, effort, and resources on self preservation
  • go above and beyond to exhibit higher performing customer service, brand loyalty, and problem solving

This leads to a competitive advantage through significantly higher commitment, satisfaction, retention, and performance. Similarly, research from the Ken Blanchard Companies found a strong correlation between trust and the behaviors associated with highly productive employees—discretionary effort, willingness to endorse the organization, performance, and a desire to be a “good organizational citizen.”

Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.—Stephen Covey

Before you get insulted that I’m explaining something as elementary as the benefits of trust, have you heard of the Edelman Trust Barometer? The ETB has surveyed tens of thousands of people across dozens of countries about their level of trust in business, media, government, and nongovernmental organizations. In its 17th year, this is the first time the study found a decline in trust across all four institutions in all 28 countries surveyed.

For leaders, one of the more disturbing findings of the ETB is the shocking lack of confidence in leadership—63% of participants said corporate CEOs are either not at all or somewhat credible. That means only 37% maintained the credibility of CEOs, a 12-point drop from last year, and this is consistent around the world. CEOs are more trusted than government leaders (29%), but that’s setting a pretty low bar. Plus, with this “trust void,” only 52% said they trust business to do what is right.

So if trust is important and society is not feeling it, what can we do? Good news: you can (re)build trust. Here are five techniques to consider:

  1. Recognition, Recognition, Recognition. To increases trust between leaders and employees, nothing does it faster than acknowledging their achievements. It indicates you are paying attention and reinforces positive behaviors.
  2. Show Compassion. Did I say recognition is the fasted way to build trust? It won’t mean anything if you don’t already have a foundation of respect. Just try influencing someone who doesn’t respect you; see how engaged they are in your ideas. Treat your team like real-life people—listen to their ideas, care about their feelings, and empathize with their concerns.
  3. Keep to Your Word. You can’t build trust without following through on promises. Your team needs to believe that what you say is sincere, so follow through on commitments.
  4. Don’t Hide Your Humanity. Being human means showing your imperfections. Your ability to discuss your mistakes and share what you have learned from it makes you more relatable. No one is concerned with transparency for the good stuff; they need you to fess up to faults, so show your vulnerable side.
  5. Smile. If you don’t want to do something substantive to build your trust and would prefer a gimmick, consider a recent study published in Psychological Science where convicted murders with trustworthy faces received more lenient sentences then their peers with untrustworthy faces. The key, it seems, is that a gentle smile increases how trustworthy others perceive you. Keep in mind, that it needs to be gentle—too big can be seen as duplicitous or insincere, while too small may be seen as sarcastic or leering.

I doubt that we can ever successfully impose values or attitudes or behaviors on our children certainly not by threat, guilt, or punishment. But I do believe they can be induced through relationships where parents and children are growing together. Such relationships are, I believe, build on trust, example, talk, and caring.—Fred Rogers

We live in untrustworthy times, but that does not mean we have to lead in an untrustworthy manner. Generate a culture where honesty, transparency, and truth are the basis of your organization. This must start at the top of the organizational hierarchy with you. The team will trust you once you establish that you trust the team. It may take time, but as Seth Godin says, “Earn trust, earn trust, earn trust. Then you can worry about the rest.”

Constructive Criticism and Feedback Sandwiches with Bruce Springsteen

Let me give you a hypothetical situation. An employee comes into your office with a performance issue. You a) Boost his confidence so he has the self-esteem to do better in the future or b) Provide a gentle critique. OR, if these routes don’t work for you, maybe you need option c) Be more like Bruce Springsteen.

When Springsteen’s legendary saxophone player Clarence Clemons died, Bruce gave Clemons’ nephew Jake the opportunity to audition for the E Street Band. Jake was dreadfully close to blowing the opportunity. First, he was an hour late for the tryout. Then when he finally arrived, Jake told Springsteen that he only “sort of” knew the songs. Springsteen’s response is a lesson for any leader presenting constructive feedback.

Let me get this straight. You are coming to audition for Clarence ‘Big Man’ Clemons’ seat in the E Street Band, which is not a job, by the way, but a sacred f–king position, and you are going to play Clarence’s most famous solos for Bruce Springsteen [referencing himself in the third person], the man who stood beside him for forty years, who created those solos with him, and you’re gonna ‘sort of’ know them? Where … do … you … think … you … are? If you don’t know, let me tell you. You are in a CITADEL OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL. You don’t DARE come in here and play this music for Bruce Springsteen without having your S–T DOWN COLD! You embarrass yourself and waste my precious time.”

When Jake walked out, he knew exactly what he did wrong. There was no ambiguity or uncertainty. That’s the problem with many performance discussions today. We are so concerned with being nice and politically correct,  we lose the benefits of frank criticism.

Springsteen did not personally insult Jake or say anything out of line. He simply made it clear that 1) this job matters, 2) preparation is a requirement, and 3) Bruce is the Boss! That’s not to say we need to deliver the message exactly like Springsteen, but it’s a step closer to enacting real change. If Springsteen’s approach does not mesh with your style, consider this easy-to-implement method, the Feedback Sandwich.

With a Feedback Sandwich, also called Positive-Improvement-Positive (PIP), criticism is broken into three segments:

  1. Start by focusing on strengths
  2. Then provide the criticism
  3. Lastly, describe the positive results that can be expected when the criticism is acted upon

Beginning with a positive statement lets the receiver know you are on her side and you are not there to attack her. It lowers defenses and is more likely to ensure they are receptive when the criticism begins. And by ending on a positive tone, the employee leaves on a high note, knowing the potential advantages and consequences.

The Feedback Sandwich is a little softer than what Springsteen said (he skipped the first segment), but he did master segment two and segment three was covered when Springsteen ended the disastrous incident with the opportunity for one more audition. This time, Jake arrived early, thoroughly learned the material, and got the job. Hopefully you’re next encounter will result in the same happy ending.