How To Run A Business In The Post-Truth, Post-Civility World
We live in the post-truth world. A world where self-awareness, honesty, and respect for facts has given way to selfishness, Machiavellian maneuverings, and casual deceit. It is a world where society has adopted the general belief that facts are malleable, able to be twisted to suit whatever narrative they’re promoting.
One of the first casualties of the post-truth world was civility. You see, when there is no such thing as the truth or objective facts, emotion is all you have to go on. Civil discourse becomes an anachronism, and every conflict becomes a bitter and vicious battle to the death.
While the effects of this post-truth, the post-civility world may be most apparent in the realm of politics, this is not a political issue. Instead, it’s a societal problem, far more dangerous than any malaise that we’ve ever experienced before. It impacts every aspect of our lives, from how we interact with those around us, to how we choose to run our businesses.
As an entrepreneur, I’ve experienced this societal decay in many of my dealings. People are more on edge, more aggressive, and more willing to bend the facts to suit their will than ever before.
Issues that were once easily solved through discourse become intractable problems, and personal interactions have become increasingly negative. Empathy, humility, and honesty are in short supply. Taken together, it’s enough to lead one to despair.
Now, I straddle two very different worlds in my role as the CEO of BodeTree. On one side, I operate in the realm of technology while on the other I navigate the world of franchising. In both instances, truth is often in short supply.
In navigating these two realms, I’ve come to realize that traditional business leadership strategies were designed for a more genteel time, where honor, trust, and truth were still ideals our society valued. Today’s leaders must equip themselves with a different set of skills to survive the post-truth world.
Embrace all of the facts, even when they’re uncomfortable
As I mentioned, facts aren’t what they used to be. What was once a commonly accepted reality is now subject to alternative interpretations, selective omission, and outright manipulation.
My advice to today’s leaders is simple: don’t give in. Instead, document and defend the facts with near-religious zeal. This means providing the truth at all times, warts and all.
I recently had a situation arise where I found myself having to vigorously defend the actions of my team against someone who was promoting a false and defamatory narrative. As my interactions with the individual in question became increasingly hostile, I made a point to step back and gather the facts.
I went straight to the source data, the records of our efforts. A thorough review of the data showed that the assertions being put forth by the other party were false; however, I did discover instances where we dropped the ball.
The temptation to cherry-pick the facts and present only the supporting data was strong, but I decided instead to show the full story. We disproved the false statements but embraced our mistakes. We gave the whole truth, even the parts that were uncomfortable.
I believe that doing so strengthened our position in many ways. First, it showed that we were intellectually honest. Second, it established a more calm and reasonable tone for the rest of our interaction. Third, it changed the dynamic of the conversation by introducing the one version of the truth that could stand up to any scrutiny.
Ultimately, we were able to resolve the situation and move forward with a mutually agreeable compromise that supported by a shared truth.
Compromise where you can. Where you can’t, don’t
My leadership style is best described as diplomatic. I want to believe that people are reasonable and that with enough dialogue any issue can be resolved. Of course, this approach is under fire in the post-truth, post-civility world. Diplomacy only goes so far. Sometimes, you have to hold firm.
My philosophy is to compromise where you can, but when you can’t, stand firm. A firm, confident position doesn’t have to be aggressive or confrontational. It merely needs to be rooted in the truth.
Increasingly, I’ve found myself having to hold my ground, look the other party in the eye and say “No...You move.” I’ll admit, I don’t enjoy having to do this. I’d much rather find a mutually agreeable solution when dealing with conflict, but that isn’t always possible.
When you get down to the nitty-gritty, wrong is wrong and right is right. Contrary to popular belief, there are immutable truths that cannot be cast aside. They must be defended, no matter what. If you don’t take a stand, you’ll let the forces of chaos, dishonesty, and greed run wild and destroy everything you’ve worked to build.
Be civil, even in uncivil times
Still, it’s important to remember that being firm is not the same as being confrontational. While emotions can run high and tempers flare, it’s important to stay calm and collected when dealing with conflict.
In fact, I often remind myself and those around me that grace is the ability to be civil even when living in uncivil times.
I experienced this quite recently. In dealing with a business acquaintance who was being disrespectful and irrational, I found myself about to lose my temper.
I could have easily taken the petty path and taken this person apart verbally, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to do so. However, as the back and forth became more intense, I found myself adopting a more civil tone.
My partners didn’t necessarily agree with my approach, but I felt that by giving into my anger I’d only be contributing to the problem. Instead, I chose to swallow my pride and remain polite, even while vigorously defending my position.
In the end, my decision didn’t really change anything. The other guy was still a jerk, for lack of a better term, but I took solace in the fact that I didn’t betray my values.
Remember that you can change the world
I think that’s the key lesson I’m trying to convey. Even though we live in an uncivil world where truth is continuously under attack, we don’t have to be part of it.
Each of us has the choice to give into the prevailing culture or stand aside history yelling “stop!” The post-truth world is something we have to navigate now, but if we as leaders reject this, take personal responsibility, remain civil, and live in the truth, we might not have to deal with it for long.