The Blind Alley of Wishful Thinking

By | December 13, 2016

[December 13, 2016]  Too many senior leaders have led their followers down the road of anger and despair, oftentimes from wishful thinking.  Whenever I reflect upon wishful thinking by leaders, I think back to the day I heard about the Reverend Jim Jones and his cult’s 1978 mass murder-suicide.

The reasons are, of course, complex but it appears that one of the keys to understanding this mass murder-suicide was that Jones believed “revolutionary suicide” would prevent “intelligence organizations” from shooting their babies, torturing their children, and force the others into dummies.  Jones had made many promises to his cult about the coming revolution where a benevolent model of a communist community would be established.

“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

If we look back over the history of senior leadership there are many famous cases where the wishful thinking of leaders led many people to their deaths and caused great destruction and despair.  To name just a few of those leaders would take up many pages but those that come to mind immediately are: Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Pol Pot, Robert Mugabe, Kim Jong-Il, Idi Amin Dada, Vladimir Lenin … all of which are notorious for their wishful thinking that a political ideology would help bring great wealth and respect to their followers and a Garden of Eden on Earth.

On a less destructive level, some say that the policy of the United States toward Muslim extremism is wishful thinking.  Just this past week, U.S. President Obama stated during his final national security address that al-Qaeda is “a shadow of its former self” and is a “decimated,” hollowed-out whimpering terrorist group.  Nothing could be further from the truth and nearly every intelligence official in the world knows that this particular terrorist group is growing globally in numbers and ability to attack unprotected targets.

Most of us have had the experience with a bad boss who made everyone lots of promises or established rules and regulations based on wishful thinking.  Rarely did our situation end well.  In combat, that kind of thinking can get you killed.  In business, it can force a company into a competitive disadvantage, and in personal relationships it can create unnecessary stress and end friendships.

Jesse Owens once said something about dreams; that in order to make them turn into reality, it takes a lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.  Wishful thinking plays no honest part in it.

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.