Tag Archives: Communication

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.

Nine Ways to Be a More Assertive Leader with Logan/Wolverine

When I’m asked about core leadership traits, of course I mention ethics and communication and all the other basic competencies of anyone striving to make it in a company (or society-at-large). However, successful leaders have a characteristic that sets them apart from the masses—they are assertive.

Assertiveness is your ability to demonstrate healthy confidence, to be direct and honest. It is not aggression or seeking dominance over others, but simultaneously standing up for yourself while respecting other people’s rights. It’s like Wolverine from the X-Men movies and Logan.

Wolverine conducts himself with quiet self-assurance. He says what he thinks, speaks up when something bothers him, and has no problem making his opinions known. Sure, some will say he’s the very definition of aggression with his proclivity to destroy and his hair-trigger temper, but these bouts typically occur when he’s provoked, not because he seeks them out. No, Wolverine is assertive. Thankfully we don’t need his retractable claws, indestructible skeleton, or regenerative abilities to follow suit. Just try these nine suggestions.

Display confidence. If you want to be seen as assertive, consider your posture, tone, and general persona. Speak clearly. Stand up straight. Make eye contact. Don’t fidget. And walk with purpose.

Be direct. Assertiveness and brevity go hand in hand. No need for elaborate explanations, keep your requests simple, straightforward, and respectful.

Take responsibility. If you are waiting for other people to solve your problems, you might be confusing passiveness with assertiveness. If an aspect of your life needs to change, own it and do something about it.

And take responsibility. Being assertive means being accountable for the consequences of your actions. Take your lumps, learn from them, move on.

Say no. Unless you agree with every request, you need to exert some assertiveness by saying no. Be courteous, but be firm.

Stop apologizing. Too often, “nice” people feel guilty for asserting their needs and wants. Unless you’re nearing diva territory, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Don’t apologize; just be polite and appreciative.

Don’t be pressured into justifying your views. When people are uncomfortable, they often try to defend or rationalize their decisions. Be able to explain your opinions without feeling compelled to make excuses for them.

Say what you think. No one knows what is on your mind unless you tell them. If you need something, say it. If you have a problem, speak up.

Be patient. Learning to become more assertive takes time and practice… so keep practicing.

The Business Case for Team-Based Incentives with Atlanta Falcon’s Owner Arthur Blank

You getting Super Bowl fever? As a perpetual supporter of the underdog (unless my Steelers are playing), I’ve been reading about Atlanta Falcon’s owner Arthur Blank. Even if you aren’t into football, you will appreciate that before purchasing the Falcons in 2002, Blank was co-founder of The Home Depot.

It may seem commonplace today, but when it was first introduced The Home Depot revolutionized the home improvement business with its one-stop shopping, warehouse concept. Blank then spent 19 years as its president before becoming CEO and co-chairman.

In learning about Blank, an interview last week exhibits one particularly admirable aspect of his leadership philosophy that gives strong hints as to why he has been as successful as he is. After the Falcons won their spot in the Super Bowl, Blank announced that he is flying all 500 Falcon employees to Houston for the game. When asked, “How big is that bill?” he responded:

It’s not about money. It’s about these associates, who were the ones that support our players, our coaches and our franchise… We are a family of businesses that share a set of values and we want to be able to celebrate this with everybody. All the Falcons associates are going because they’re all a part of what it takes to produce a winning team on the field.

This is motivating to the staff on two fronts. Monetarily, they are each receiving a one-in-a-lifetime experience that is far beyond most people’s budgets—between the flight, a ticket to the game (pricing starts at $3,500 per seat), hotel, and food it could easily cost $8,000 per employee.

More impactful, however, is the message of shared success that Blank is conveying. If the team does well, we all do well. These team-based incentives reinforce a company culture of collaboration and cooperation. As a result, team members are more likely to prioritize the shared goals and values of the organization over their personal agendas.

Not convinced? A 2010 study found that employees receiving team-based incentives are more willing to put extra effort into their tasks because they don’t want to let their teammates down. Armstrong and Ryden’s research found that companies with long-term, team-based incentive pay resulted in significantly lower than average employee turnover. And another study found productivity increases of 9-17% relative to companies with individual incentives.

If team-based incentives sound costly (and you aren’t able to send your team to the Super Bowl), don’t worry. Research shows that team-incentive schemes are 26-29% more cost effective than individual incentives. I’m no economists, but spending less and getting more for your money sounds like a competitive advantage.

As leaders, we need to make shared success a part of our culture. Impart the attitude that “we’re all in this together.” Make it a regular part of your communication and back it up with tangible incentives and rewards. The quicker you start, the quicker you’ll be on your way to your national championship.

Three Ways to Provide Meaningful Context with Questlove

Ever had a new, ingenious idea that was met with a thud? I’m sure YOU haven’t but you’ve probably seen it happen to others. I was speaking with a CEO recently who had been working on an exciting new direction for her company. She had questions about strategy, but what we really should have been discussing was her communication plan when launching it.

At the company-wide unveiling, she eagerly revealed the plan. There were charts and graphs and every other quantifiable measure to support her idea. And then there was silence—a bleak, soul crushing silence.

It turns out that no one, including her leadership team, had any inkling this was coming. They thought they were attending a quarterly review, not a turn-the-world-upside-down upheaval. Change, in itself, can be scary, but what’s even scarier is when you don’t understand the what’s, why’s, and how’s. What my colleague was missing was context.

Context involves our ability to interrelate something you already know with whatever change we’d like to instill. Questlove, a music aficionado, record producer, and drummer/joint frontman for The Roots, recently discussed this on Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin:

No one has ever had success in music without being contextualized in an artistic community. So, you think you like Stevie Wonder, but no, you associate Stevie Wonder with Smokie [Robinson], The Temptations, Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Motown family… The only people that had success without a family or contextualization are one-hit wonders… Everyone is associated with a movement. Look at The Police. They were part of that post-punk movement, early new wave movement, Talking Heads. Even if they don’t do it by design, we as consumers think that.

Just as no one has ever had success in music without being contextualized, no leader is successful in business without contextualizing their ideas. With context, the leader sets the tone so they can initiate commitment and support for change. It taps into individuals’ established schemas and mental models so they can create the mental links necessary to apply the new information to their construction of reality. If this seems complicated, these three simple techniques can help you provide context to your team.

Know thy audience. Everything is interpreted through someone’s context. It shapes the meaning in all communication. Thus, when your message is delivered in a context that is not compatible with the audience, miscommunication is inevitable. Maintain an understanding as to what your audience already knows and how they are most receptive to learning.

Squash fears. Change is often associated with fear, and fear is often associated with a lack of understanding. So illustrate how the new plan meshes with the current strategy. Explain what, if anything, it is replacing. Describe how it will reallocate resources, job duties, etc. and how it will affect individual employees.

Provide history. Every new concept has a background, a past. It may involve an update, revision, or enhancement to a current concept; a best practice; or a new industry standard…but it didn’t materialize out of thin air. Plot out the history so others can visualize how the project started and why it is necessary.

Very often we assume others can comprehend these connections without explanation; after all, it is so clear to us. However, as in the case of the aforementioned CEO, she had been thinking about her new direction for almost two years before the launch. That is two years of pondering, brainstorming, and intellectualizing. Two years of making the associations she needed to bridge the gap between her vision and the current state of the company. Two years of contextualizing.

Want to learn from her misstep? Inform your team of the issue at hand through a workable framework. Address their concerns. Give them the background information you already possess so they can visualize the decision making leading up to your resolution. It may not seem like much, but it’s the context they need to associate your new Stevie Wonder with their classic Smokie Robinson.

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.