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The Truth is Deceptive

With the recently resolved US debt ceiling crisis, people have returned to talking about who owns America instead of will there be anything left to own.  As the media returns its focuses to the Chinese ownership of US debt, it was interesting to find out that only eight percent of US debt is held by the Chinese.  See the CNN article from July that summarizes the major ownership stakes: (http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2011/07/21/who-owns-america-hint-its-not-china/). In fact, foreign investors own around $4.5 trillion while US investors hold $45 trillion.

I thought it might be interesting to share the article with a few well educated and news suave people that I know to get their reaction.  Not surprisingly, the majority asked if it was really true and how could the result be so different from current public perception.  In about half of the conversations, the conclusion was drawn that talking about the other organizations and countries on the list do not make as strong of headlines.  The remainder agreed that people need someone to blame for the fiscal decisions as of late and domestic investors, local governments,  or the United Kingdom is not as blame worthy.

As I considered the conservations,  several elements that relate to how deceptive the truth can be came to mind:

  • People believe their own opinions more than facts
  • People do not always say what they believe
  • We need straw people

People Believe Their Own Opinions more than Facts

Most of us draw conclusions quickly and remain closely wed to what we believe.  As leaders,  it is tempting to default to what we know and hold tightly to what has been successful for each of us personally.  This same mindset yields the tendency of assuming if we arrive at a conclusion, it must be the right conclusion.  I worked on an employee termination case with a client a few years ago.  There was sound evidence against the employee related to a number of serious infractions of professional conduct,  but the manager refused to participate in or even discuss the termination process.  When I asked the manager for his reasoning,  he simply stated he did not believe the evidence and nothing would convince him otherwise.  As much as we want to believe something,  sometimes we have to step back and ask with are the facts.

People Do Not Always Say What They Believer

We live in a world that rewards filtered speech.  Although filtered speech can take many forms, the two most common include softening and positioning. Think how common it is to produce results with a quarter of your time and spend the other three quarters of your time developing a creative way to soften, wordsmith, or disguise the results.  A client gave me an extreme example recently about how they knew the organization was out of money,  but instead of figuring out how to increase revenues,  most of their time was dedicated to describing their shortcomings in a positive manner.  Position is used by anyone that wants to send a message different than what they believe for their own advantage.  The classic workplace example is the employee that says he or she does not want the promotion repeatedly when behind the scenes and in his or her heart that is exactly what is wanted.

We Need Straw People

If we are brutally honest,  we all seek someone to blame besides ourselves when the situation is more than we can accept.  In years of working with employees all over the US and abroad,  it is very rare to encounter an employee that equates his or her employment issues with something within his or her control.  Most of us look for someone else to link our anxiety to and place solutions outside of our own capabilities.  A common approach to allocating blame is to a select a dummy or straw target.

If things were truly at “face value,” life would be so much simpler.  As leaders,  we have to not only deal with the facts, but what the facts can and have been transformed into by those that work for us.