Words Matter…

Great leaders don’t lie and categorize/label whole groups of people as bad. Do great presidents? What we have going on right now is a bit surreal and worthy of debate.  Regardless of your support or hate for President Trump, the question I am asking is — are the POTUS’s words having a negative impact on society?

I’m quite surprised that more CEOs, organizational scientists, executive coaches, and leadership development consultants are not broadly discussing the consequences to society of poor ‘Integrity and Honesty’ and ‘objectifying’ entire groups of people.

In a recent HBR.org study “Has high ethical and moral standards” was the number one competency expected of a leader. Given the large number of false statements made by the current POTUS and the competency’s recognized importance, I would have expected more of a debate on the subject. I recently read a great book by Dan Ariely, author of The Honest Truth About Dishonesty that leads me to believe that the impact on society is bigger than one would expect.   “Once an environment has had dishonesty introduced, that new normal spreads.” People start thinking things like, “Well, everyone else is doing it”.  “It’s been proven that you can take someone who is basically an honest person, put them into a system where the person running the system is corrupt, and they conform. They cheat more and start stealing. If the leader of the system is saying things are corrupt, the leader sets the tone.” Any good leader knows that if a Sr. manager in an organization is dishonest the managers under that person need to be looked at as well.  What does this say about the future ethics of our executive staff, Congress, and future state/local leadership? If the behavior that at one time made society feel uncomfortable starts appearing reasonable and standards start loosening to fit common, lesser standards, then our society is on the descent.

Here is an example of where lack of ethics takes our society… other leaders failing us: Democrats call out Maxine Waters for encouraging incivility

Now… then there is the ‘objectifying’ large groups of people…  What is the impact on society of the leader of the free world by referring to large groups of people as “rapists” and “terrorists” (some of this can be found here)? Another great book I read long ago is “Leadership and Self Deception: Getting out of the box” by the Arbinger Group.  The essence of the book is that when people categorize others in a society as objects versus human beings with feelings, thoughts, and needs then it’s easier to hurt them.

Here is the result of prominant leaders treating entire groups of people as ‘objects’ versus human beings: Charlottesville: Race and Terror 

Anyone that has ever lead an organization understands that words have a tremendous impact.  Our public sector leaders need to shape up or ship out.

One Reply to “Words Matter…”

  1. Consider the difference between the European and American corporate governance models. The CEO of an European organization would be held to account for managing risk, ethics, compliance and such – accountable to shareholders and to community. The CEO of an European organization would never simultaneously serve in the capacity of the President. The President is responsible for maximizing profitability, which can result from assuming too much risk, unethical action, a state of noncompliance… A strong CEO is the check that the Board (shareholders and community) has on the operations which is lead by the President. When one serves in both capacities simultaneously (as frequently occurs in the American model), profitability will take precedent over risk management, ethics, compliance and the like. To do otherwise would be contrary to the financial interest of the President. For those who quickly would point to the VW diesel engine scandal as evidence of a flawed European governance model, I suggest you read the article below. When was the last time that an American CEO was held to account for the actions of the company he/she oversees? Poor risk management in the American financial services industry nearly collapsed the global economy in 2008, and yet not a single President/CEO found themselves being held to task. Corporate leaders aside, whether you consider our current President/CEO (Mr. Trump) or our members of Congress, governors, mayors, county commissions, school boards … many assume such roles for self-enrichment rather than a sense of duty to country. And they are able to keep these roles because they deliver for those whose money put them there.

    https://www.npr.org/2018/06/18/620953719/audi-ceo-arrested-in-connection-with-volkswagen-emissions-scandal.

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