Leaders and Fake News – Introducing Leadership Essential #4


Good morning! Fall is here in Charlottesville. This time of year reminds me of one of the happiest days of my life – two years ago.

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On to leaders and fake news . . .
“But Mr. Immelt didn’t like hearing bad news, said several executives who worked with him, and didn’t like delivering bad news, either. He wanted people to make their sales and financial targets and thought he could make the numbers, too, they said.”
This quote comes from a Wall Street Journal article I’ve been saving since it was written this past February. It profiled Jeff Immelt, GE’s former CEO for 16 years. Do you know the legacy of this CEO who preferred false good news to truthful bad news? A stock price that fell 30% . . . while the rest of the market grew 124%.
This is an excellent example of a leader not applying Leadership Essential #4:

Leaders Pursue Truth.

(The introduction of this Leadership Essentials series is here and, ICYMI – #1, #2 and #3 so far in the series.)
Real leaders pursue truth! They make decisions and give direction based on the most accurate set of facts they can gather – not on just (the good) part of the facts, not on assumptions, and not on stories they make up in their heads based on their desired reality.
While it might seem obvious that Leaders should pursue truth, many do not – every day. What do they do instead? They:

  • Act off the hearsay of others
  • Make assumptions so they appear to “have it figured out”
  • Filter to hear only the truth they like

I can hear a leader bringing a particular challenge to me now . . .

Leader: I heard such and such from so and so . . .
Me: Is that true?
Leader: I don’t know.
Me: What have you done to try and find the truth?

Ray Dalio may be the poster boy for Leaders who Pursue Truth. The first of his “Life Principles” is – “Embrace reality and deal with it.”
He goes on to say that “Truth, or, more precisely, an accurate understanding of reality, is the essential foundation for any good outcome.” What leader, desiring the best possible outcome, would not want to have as accurate an understanding of the facts as possible?!
One of the earliest leadership maxims I recall learning as a young Army officer was this one —

Great leaders surround themselves
with people who aren’t afraid
to tell them their breath stinks!

Here are three ways to pursue truth as you lead:

  1. Make it clear. Communicate to those around you that you always want as accurate a report of the facts as possible. Repeat.
  2. Keep digging. Act like a detective to pursue truth. Push your people to do the same.
  3. Don’t punish publicly. Avoid punishing the messenger in front of others for a message you don’t want to hear.

Be a leader who pursues truth and is always truthful.

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Speaking of truth, my last blog about political role models (not!) seemed to ring true for many of you. Thank you to all who wrote me in response. Randy Syring wrote:
“Rob – in your post, you got pretty close to defining Radical Candor.  If you haven’t seen this, I’d recommend taking a look.”
I agree. Check it out.

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Finally, this has been one of our busiest years ever at the McKinnon Group — working one on one with CEOs and senior executives around the country, and one on many in workshops with companies seeking to grow or change their cultures.
We are finally seeing some daylight in our calendars in the coming months. So let us know if you would like to have a conversation about how we might help you or your company.
Lead well.