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Every truth reveals itself if you pursue it far enough.
Except, in the 21st century, in the age of fake news and the infinite reach of the internet, we often find ourselves pursuing the truth so far away from our center of gravity that we eventually get lost in a digital hall of mirrors, never to return. Hampered by an endless onslaught of politics, agendas, flat-out lies, cognitive dissonance, and Procrustean Beds, we eventually give up and give in to whichever point of view we see more often. Truth morphs into subjectivity. Subjectivity morphs into truth. And the cycle repeats itself.
Disturbingly, no one is immune to such confusion. Not even world leaders. Not even community leaders, and not even the most important leaders there are—ourselves. Since it’s so much easier to accept a truth than to pursue the truth, we get lost in the trees, never to find the forest. And eventually, what we think are the trees, become merely reflections upon reflections in our self-constructed hall of mirrors. As a leader, you’ll need to develop the ability to step back and see the forest. While everyone is sorting through the trees, you need a toolkit for sorting through and finding the truth, in times of conflict, research, shaping your vision, or focusing on objectives worthy of you and your team’s attention. There are no perfect solutions for truth-finding. But as a leader of people, of destinies, and of fates and fortunes, it is your obligation to do your due diligence to find truth. Here are three tactics that I’ve used with much success, to find truth and make effective decisions in a hall of mirrors.
If you question a cat and a dog as to why the lamp was knocked over, you’ll probably get their own, biased versions of why they are not to blame. Instead of seeking to believe one or the other, triangulate their stories—look for where there is overlap and agreement. Try this with the news: where opposite sides of the political spectrum overlap is often where you will find truth, and where they don’t overlap is often where you’ll find exaggeration, agenda, and self-interest. You wouldn’t get all of your medical advice on a serious condition from a single source, so treat your mind and sanity the same way. Invite competing viewpoints into your consideration at any given time. When you’re faced with conflicting views on the same set of information, it is always best to triangulate.
When the source of truth is not clear, it most likely lurks in the simplest and easiest explanation. If there are multiple, equally probable explanations for why something happened, it’s often safe to assume the simplest explanation is the truth. When an employee gives a long and drawn-out explanation for why he must miss work, it’s a sign that he is probably hiding the real reason. When wondering why there was so much confusion about COVID-19, you’ll find the reason by looking at the political calendar.
People are lazy. That may sound curt, but it’s human nature. We don’t usually take extra action unless incentivized to do so. That said, if you are mediating an employee dispute, and you know which incentives are at play for whom, then it is usually very easy to zero in on the truth. If the set of incentives are between money and morality, money most often wins. In other cases, if you know your subordinates well enough, you will know exactly which incentives match their needs. Take stock of who stands to gain and from what. As we know, incentives might not be everything, but they influence everything.
Of course, these three ideas are not fool proof. There are always more truth-detecting tactics where these came from, but these three have served me well as a young leader. Mutations in truth go both up the ladder and down the ladder. Many will try to take advantage of what they perceive to be inexperience or gullibility in young leaders (~under 40). Wherever you are in your leadership journey, it is your job, first and foremost, to prioritize the truth, or the truth will one day catch up with you.
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