Wishful Thinking: A Failed Leader Tactic

By | December 11, 2014

[December 11, 2014] As a child I was told that if I believed hard enough, wishing on a falling star would make my wish come true. As mature adults we know that wishing something to be true is not sufficient to make it so. As leaders we must be aware of slipping into that the trap that wishing something to be true, means it must be true. There is considerable risk to this tactic among leaders. Wishful thinking is nothing other than a failed leader tactic.

Rolling Stone magazine recently published an article about an alleged rape at the University of Virginia. The problem … the article’s author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, did not check her sources. Furthermore, the managing editors did not require her to do so, violating basic journalistic standards. But this is not what this post is about.

A very popular cause célèbre among reporters and academics is exposing the “rape culture” of American colleges. The cause is so strong that once a victim is identified, facts that could contradict the desired narrative may be discounted and standards of finding the truth are sometimes thrown away. The magazine leadership wanted this story to be true so badly that they failed in their journalistic duty. This is why wishing something to be true is a failed leader tactic.

Sadly, the article has done damage to both Rolling Stone magazine and to the cause itself. This is only one risk associated with the failures that result from the sacrifice of truth. Certainly, bad journalism was not done on purpose, nor was it preplanned. It does show the insidiousness of such a trap when the desire to see something is so strong, that reality does not easily intrude. Great leaders do not sacrifice standards and they do not fall for such a trap.

Interestingly, as of the publication of this blog post, the Rolling Stone article is still up on their website. 1 It is preceded by an editorial “we published the article with the firm belief that it was accurate.” Well, yeah! The editorial which attempts to limit its liability and culpability falls short because it misses the point. We all know journalistic standards were waived.

The point is that both the reporter (who was shopping for rape victims) and the magazine leadership (who were only too happy to help), so wished the story to be true that there was no need for fact checking.

Sound like a wishing on a falling star? As a kid, I believed it. As an adult, I’m aware that there is a subtle trap that could easily pull in any leader.

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[1] http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/a-rape-on-campus-20141119


Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

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

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