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

Are You Weird Enough? Three Ways to Stand Out

This article was originally published on lifehack.org.

On the infinite list of traits that make people successful leaders, there’s one that is too often overlooked—being weird. Why do we disregard the power that comes from being different? It is time to embrace what makes us weird and incorporate it into our lives.

To be labeled a weirdo should be synonymous with being an innovator, a thought leader, an entrepreneur. It is weird to see something and think, “I can make that better.” It is weird to contemplate a solution for a plan that seems to be working just fine. It is weird to speak out against popular opinion with a new, contradictory idea. These are not things “normal” people do.

To make weird a part of our company culture, it helps to specify what we’re talking about. Being weird is not about bucking the norm simply for the sake of being different or seeking attention. Anyone can wear unusual clothes or ironically play a kazoo. In fact, if you start any initiative with the thought, “Yeah, this is gonna be weird,” then you are missing the point.

I never set out to be weird. It was always other people who called me weird.—Frank Zappa

The intent of embracing your weirdness is to unleash the unconventional thoughts you are already having. We all have an inner drive to accomplish goals that are daring and innovative and progressive. However embracing your weirdness is more than feeling this inner drive; it involves putting action behind your thoughts. If you’re ready to take on this challenge, here are three practices to get you started:

#1 Acknowledge that you have issues

I had a mentor who started meetings with each person stating their “issues.” This lighthearted exercise was intended to break down social barriers and generate social cohesion. When I was asked this in my first week on the job, I said that I don’t have issues. The room laughed knowing that we all have issues.

These issues are the individual quirks that make us different. It can include something as simple as your predilection for starting every day singing a Neil Diamond song or your ability to quote every line from The Big Lebowski or that you’ve watched so much Walking Dead you create an emergency exit strategy whenever entering a room… or maybe that’s just me.

Where’s your will to be weird?—Jim Morrison

The point is that we must own our weirdness before we have leverage it. Admittedly, this can be an uncomfortable exercise—it’s engrained in us since childhood that weirdness is a bad thing. Just keep reminding yourself that people who blend it, do not stand out.

#2 Stop being boring

If this sounds too easy, that’s because it is. You can actively will yourself into being weirder simply by making the effort to be more interesting. A few suggestions:

  • watch less TV, or at least watch a greater variety of shows
  • do not list “checking your social media” as a hobby
  • try different restaurants
  • engage in substantive conversations, and do not talk about the weather… ever!
  • create a bucket list of things to do, new skills to learn, and places to go
  • stray from mainstream media
  • engage in one remarkable activity every weekend (or at least every month)
  • stop expecting to be entertained by others
  • and stop expecting others to do all talking

It’s good as an artist to always remember to see things in a new, weird way.—Tim Burton

#3 Be the CWO (Chief Weird Officer)

Once you’ve embraced your weirdness, it’s time to strengthen it throughout your organization. Leaders must make an exerted effort to structure their team in a way that nurtures the weird so people can more fully reveal and utilize their talents. This includes fostering a work environment that negates the social stigmas that stifle offbeat creativity. Where imperfection is not just allowed, but encouraged as a means of development and learning. Where sameness is not tolerated. Where speaking up is incentivized, even when they’re wrong.

To bring out the weirdness, leaders can also help those on their team find their niche. In her book Stand Out, esteemed strategy consultant Dorie Clark discussed the need to be recognized as an authority or expert through a strong professional reputation. This can happen by expanding your focus, but more often weirdness is tapped by “niching down” or narrowing focus on a topic. If the leader exposes team members to a plethora of opportunities to learn and grow, they can find their niche and “weird out” on it.

I always encourage young people who ask me for advice to be themselves. Whatever is weird about you, whatever weird thing you do to crack up your siblings, that other people at school maybe say, ‘Man, you’re weird,’ that’s the most valuable thing you have. Because if you try to homogenize yourself and act like other people on television or other people in the audition room, then you’re taking away your weirdness.—Nick Offerman

Being weird means putting yourself out there. This involves a degree of vulnerability and a willingness to take on risk. “Normal” people stifle these insecurities; that’s what makes them normal. But those who embrace their weirdness are eager to break through the “we’ve always done it that way” mindset. It may feel lonely at times, but it is ultimately more fulfilling and leads to bigger results. As they say, “Go weird or go home.”

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

Five Ways Leaders Can Harness Humility with Billy Eichner

In the pantheon of essential leadership traits, are you giving humility its due? It is easy to get caught up in the power associated with your position; after all, wasn’t your greatness validated when you were promoted into the leadership role? Sometimes that is why we need to be humbled by Billy Eichner.

If you aren’t familiar with Billy Eichner, he is the talented host of the show Billy on the Street. Part street performance, part game show, and part improv comedy drill, Eichner runs through the streets of New York City asking bystanders questions that are typically self-depreciating to the celebrity shepherding behind Eichner. It is frenzied and funny.

With the big names Eichner attracts to his show, it is fascinating to see how they react to negative comments or (even worse) indifference. Eichner discussed this in a recent interview.

The more famous you are, perhaps, the less time you’ve spent actually engaging with other non-show-business people on the street. You have a team of people around you keeping you from those people, not allowing them to get to you and ask for a selfie. I’m literally dragging you over to someone on the street who may or may not be a fan. And you don’t know what their reaction’s going to be. Chris Pratt, at the height of his breakout year, ran around with me and I literally went up to people and said, ‘This is the hottest star in Hollywood right now. Hollywood Reporter says X about him, Entertainment Weekly says this about him, who is he?’ And they didn’t know. They thought he was Chris Evans, Chris Pine, Josh Duhamel. He’s just standing there, and I think it took him by surprise. We played It’s Spock, Do You Care? with Zachary Quinto. ‘Miss, it’s Spock, do you care?’ Many people didn’t care. And Zach turned to me and said, ‘Every actor should have to do this.’ Because it’s humbling, and if you have a sense of humor, you’re not really offended. These actors are doing plenty well even if not every single person can get their name right. It pops that balloon in a nonthreatening, fun way.

As leaders, we must also be willing to pop our balloon of self-importance so we can retain a sense of humility. A recent study by Catalyst found that humility is one of four critical leadership factors for creating an inclusive environment. In an extensive survey of more than 1,500 workers from six countries, employees observing selfless behavior in their managers were more likely to feel engaged with the team. These humility-based behaviors included:

  • learning from different points of view,
  • admitting mistakes,
  • empowering others to learn and develop,
  • taking personal risks for the greater good,
  • acknowledging and seeking contributions of others to overcome limitations, and
  • holding individuals responsible for results.

Employees whose managers displayed these altruistic behaviors reported being more innovative and involved. They were more inclined to take the initiative to propose new ways of doing work, partook in more team citizenship behavior, and were more likely to expense discretionary effort so as to meet workgroup objectives. A similar study in Administrative Science Quarterly also found that managers who exhibit humility resulted in better employee engagement and job performance.

For so long, we’ve talked about the power of persuasion and this over-the-top self-confidence in leaders, which is a very top-down style of leadership.—Rob Nielsen, coauthor of Leading with Humility

If this sounds like something that would benefit your organization (and who couldn’t), here are five ways you can harness your humility to be a more effective leader:

Put Others First. Humble leaders put the needs of their team ahead of their own. This is not purely altruistic; the teams’ success will lead to the leader’s success. Share the credit and provide team incentives.

Turn your mistakes into teachable moments. When we display our personal development it legitimizes and reinforces the growth and learning of others. Like most modeled behaviors, others are more willing to admit their imperfections if we do it first. They will also find us more relatable, influential, and “human.”

Ask For Help. Part of being humble involves not having all the answers. There is a level of vulnerability, but not acting “all knowing” shows your readiness to learn and become better.

Tend To Their Needs. Team performance increases when team members believe their leader is looking out for their best interests. Ensure they have the resources and support they need and be on the look out for new opportunities. This is not enabling or coddling; its showing how you invest in their success.

Embrace uncertainty. Many leaders want to control all aspects of the workplace. This is both unrealistic and unsustainable. We must be able to recognize when to take charge and when to let go. While the work may not get done the exact way we’d do it, the end product can end up even better.

Like Billy Eichner, we must self-regulate our humility and enforce it within our company culture. We cannot be afraid to ask, “It’s me, the boss, do you care?” If you are doing your job right, they may say, “no.” And yet it won’t matter—they respect you regardless of your title, not because of it.

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