Reasonable Leadership

From January 2016, African American Point of View, by Lora Wondolowski

Every summer I try to read a classic novel and chose Orwell’s 1984 this summer.  Little did I know how relevant his dystopian future would be right now.  One of the things that really struck me in the novel was how their leaders were rewriting history and facts and changing the language.  Today we are having a national conversation about “post-facts” and “fake news” that echoes the world in 1984.

While co-facilitating a training on racial injustice, one of the participants responded to the historic “facts” that were presented with challenge on “white slavery”.  They cited a website that has information about people of European decent that were supposedly enslaved by Africans.  This person used that “fact” as a reason not to listen to anything we presented as if having one “fact” negates the other.  Facts are the foundation for any decisions that we make as humans.  We interpret the facts based on our own experience, reality, interpretations, and assumptions leading to what actions or decisions we make based on the “facts”.  This progression is known as the Ladder of Inference.  If facts don’t match our experience or frame of reference we reject those facts to justify our interpretation.  This doesn’t mean that they are not facts, but don’t match our reality.  In the case of the person in the training, they didn’t want to accept the facts presented and looked for a justification for rejecting them.  They found their own facts that matched perception.

Reason is the ability of leaders to interpret reality and bring others along.  Leaders have the ability to align perceptions with reality and increase their leadership by being reasonable.  Reality is reality regardless of whether or not it is perceived.  The challenge is when we perceive things that are not real or fail to perceive things that are.  The ability to shine a light on that reality is being reasonable and is a powerful tool as a leader.  Reason is the quality of a leader to be accord with reality, even when it is not convenient, expedient, or comfortable.

We are alarmingly faced with leaders that are acting unreasonably by presenting a reality that is false and using fake news and post-facts to justify that reality.  It is being argued that facts are not facts but just interpretations.  If you can’t rely on reason or foundational facts in making decisions, what can you rely upon?  We have to resist the seductive nature of following leaders that provide “facts” that don’t challenge us or are easy.  It is also easy to think that being reasonable as a leader is not bold.  Yet Rosa Parks’ perception of the word and the reality of the world were in alignment.  She acted boldly but with reason when she refused to move.  As a leader, that reasonable move engaged others.  What are the reasonable moves that you can make as a leader in this post-truth era?  How can you highlight reality?  These are the new questions that the leaders we need face and must rise to.