Wishful Thinking is Not Leadership

By | December 4, 2017

[December 4, 2017]  Like the proverbial genie in the lamp, wishful thinking is at best a feel-good fantasy and at worse a flight of the imagination gone wrong. When I joined the U.S. Army I had the idea that my money problems would go away and I could relax in a stateside barracks with a bunch of fun guys.  Reality came about rather quickly.

From military commanders to politicians to our favorite cousin, wishful thinking does not work.  What is worse is that those leaders who are prone to wishful thinking are likely to put their employees (or soldiers) at risk.  Family members are referred to as clueless; much like my last commander in the army.

“Wishful thinking is not idealism.  It is self-indulgence at best and self-exaltation at worst.  In either case, it is usually at the expense of others.  In other words, it is the opposite of idealism.” – Thomas Sowell, American economist and political philosopher

Wishful thinking is self-serving and can be dangerous.  For example, there is no secret that ABC News has a beef with President Donald Trump; their editorials and new stories are riddled with insults and a breathless desire to see him tripped up.  A few days ago they reported that a confidant of Michael Flynn said Flynn is prepared to testify that Donald Trump instructed him to contact Russian officials during the campaign.1  ABC News was later forced to retract the story.

ABC News executives despise the president and their intense emotion got in the way of checking the facts before they went to print.  Emotion drives wishful thinking yet professionalism demands that we remain unemotional.  This dialectic is a struggle for all leaders who must balance passion (a positive emotion) with hatred (and other “sins” of the soul).

Not unlike U.S. Lt. Gen Jay Silveria who allowed his emotion to push him out ahead of the facts in reporting on racist events, ABC News and many in the profession have allowed their personal biases to drive their reporting.  A common trend lately seems to be senior leaders allowing their emotions to interfere with their duties.

If I’m a kid rubbing on an old lamp found in grandmother’s attic and hoping for a genie to appear, such behavior is acceptable because I’ve hurt no one.  When senior leaders do it – or allow it to happen – bad things inevitably happen that puts us all at risk.  Doing so is a quick way to lose credibility.

Junior leaders would do themselves a favor by studying incidents like these to learn a valuable lesson … you can have wishful thinking, just don’t make decisions on it.

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  1. http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2017/12/media-breathlessness-media-wishful-thinking.php

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