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Leadership, Viewpoint!

How to recognise Fake Leadership in the post-truth world

Fake leadersI have been having a number of conversations with leaders, and about leadership, over recent months and an interesting angle is the emerging style of leadership for a post-truth world. The Brexit campaign and the new US presidency have particularly shaped people’s thinking on the actions and behaviours we see in our leaders. It fits neatly with some of the leadership, change and communication models I use and discuss with clients during workshops.

So, based on those conversations and some reading, here is my guide to Fake Leadership for the post-truth world.

Step 1: Use plenty of platitudes
Platitudes are the empty words these leaders trot out to help fill their air-time (and they take lots of air-time). Good words to use include:
– transparency
– openness
– stakeholders
– ongoing
– going forward
– reach out

You may also hear these fake leaders saying things like “my door is always open” or “people can talk to me about anything”. The unsaid words, of course, are “you’d better not tell me something I don’t want to hear”.

Step 2: Create an aura of authority by using management-speak 
There are numerous gobbledegook generators on the internet and fake leaders seem to have this hard-worked into their heads.

The following always sound good:
– Transformation Strategy (ideally a “digital” one)
– Efficiency Programme (preferably underpinned by Lean, 6-Sigma, or preferably, Lean 6-sigma)
– Culture Change (politicians love this one: “we need to see a culture change”)
– Stakeholder Engagement (focus groups are an ideal mechanism for this)

Step 3: Create some Fake News
This is a really important element of the leader’s toolkit. Ideally, fake news stories should be published in the run-up to key events. This helps to divert attention from the real issues that might otherwise cause embarrassment to the leader. Elections, launch events and conferences are all good focal points for circulating fake news. If possible, the story itself should be put out by one of the leader’s inner circle or a “press spokesperson” to give it an air of additional credibility.

Fake news stories typically take one of two formats: “everything in the garden is rosy” or “the opposition/competition has done something very bad”. Fake news stories also benefit from having platitudes woven through them. Sweeping generalisations also work well, e.g. “everyone knows” or “it is widely acknowledged” or “the vast majority” or “a minority of opponents”. It is also important that the story doesn’t define “rosy” or “bad”; the audience should be left to reach their own conclusions and fill in any blanks for themselves.

Step 4: The final tactic for fake leaders is to put out Alternative Facts
Prior to the post-truth world, these were called “lies”. The misuse of statistics or taking data out of context both provide wonderful opportunities to present alternative facts. Cherry-picking facts is very important here. For example, everyone remembers the Brexit claim that “we send £350 million to the EU every day”. Only those “facts” that support the leader’s case should be used. Leaders have to use these facts in a confident and assertive manner. It helps if they can do basic maths, too. Knowing what it will cost to implement a particular policy is a fundamental piece of information the leader needs to have to hand. Getting a decimal point in the wrong place can blow any credibility that an alternative fact might otherwise have had.

In summary, many of these leaders are “authentic”, so using the term Authentic Leadership isn’t helpful. These people are absolutely authentic; it’s just that they are rubbish as leaders!

For the avoidance of doubt, this article is not a set of recommendations and should have been published on April 1st.

Further resources for Fake Leadership:

The Platitude-Bullshit-Lie Model (pdf)

Bull***t generators:

Generator 1 Generator 2 Generator 3

My blog posts on management-speak, Buzzword compliance and more management-speak.

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