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A Post-Leadership World

December 18, 2016


As a society we’re suckers for labels. We love creating a label for whatever seems unique or cool at the time. Examples abound, with a steady influx being created, manipulated from existing words, or appropriated from older generations. Then they go viral, usually disappearing after a little while.

More recently, what could be called society’s pseudo elites, those self-proclaiming above average brain power or special knowledge, have fallen into the habit of adding the prefix “post” to anything they see fit. Witness the expression “post-racial world” that dates back to 1971 in a New York Times article, and which started to become popular during Barack Obama’s presidency. But then reflect on the extreme violence that has been perpetrated on black Americans during Obama’s eight years in office. Take a moment to read a recent post I wrote, Giving Permission to Canada’s Racists.

The prefix “post,” however, has some history. Let’s look at the word Postmodernism, created in the mid 20th Century. (Modernism emerged as a philosophical movement in the late 1800s and early 1900s, spurred on by rapid industrial growth). Note that the word “post” in the modernism context pertains to the lack of any overarching principles, and importantly that there are no scientific, religions or philosophical truths that reveal all to everyone. Skepticism is seen as a healthy state among a population (an interesting concept if one were to apply it to the recent Presidential election in the United States).

Indeed, Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is Post-truth, an adjective defined as: “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” For fun, check out this list of English words with the prefix “post”.


One person specifically comes to mind when reflecting on what’s now become one of the media’s hottest buzz words: post-truth. No one did—and does—post-truthiness better than President-Elect Donald Trump. Admittedly, there’s a pandemic now of politicians everywhere throwing facts and the truth in the ditch and going for the emotions of people. It’s way more efficient as a means to an ends (typically political), but also the lazy route. However, it shouldn’t be like that.

A leader with sound integrity and personal principles will earn his or her followership the hard way, through the process of conveying facts by rational explanation. Making up facts and appealing to people’s dark side—where our prejudices and fears hide—is the route the cowardly leader takes. Or to put it another way, as Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN’s GPS 360, said of Donald Trump shortly before the November 8th election: He’s a “bullshit artist.”

Well, you can’t get more direct than that, and perhaps Zakaria’s description is the closest one to the mark for President-Elect Trump. And it’s certainly paid off very well financially for Trump over time.

In August 2012, I wrote a post called What’s Your Truthiness Quotient?, drawing on Stephen Colbert’s The Word segment from his former Colbert Report satire show. “Truthiness” dates back to October 2005 when he first created it to mean “…truth that comes from the gut, not books.”

I came up with the idea of a Truthiness Quotient for leadership– HITS, comprising four key elements. These come from the gut, our inner being–not from books.


1) Humbleness:

You have a good grasp that your knowledge base, while perhaps impressive to others, is but a mere speck of sand in a mammoth and growing world body of knowledge. What you don’t know you don’t know vastly exceeds what you actually know. Think about that for a moment.

2) Integrity:

When you open your mouth and make a statement of whatever sort, you mean what you say and say what you mean. In short, are your words and actions congruent?

Sounds easy?

Give it try and ask one of your followers or peers to keep careful track.

Can your family, friends and co-workers take to the bank what you promise? Are you what the late Stephen Covey called a “promise keeper?”

3) Transparency:

How open are you? Are there two “yous,” one side that you present to others while keeping the other one for other purposes?

When you make decisions, do you share all the information you possess with your co-workers and staff? Or do you manipulate and hold information in order to achieve your non-transparent objectives?

4) Sacrifice:

If you mean what you say and say what you mean, then you have no problem taking the hit for the team when necessary, especially if you’re the official leader. In the military, especially special ops groups such as the Navy Seals, team leaders are the first to go in the door during a firefight. They don’t hesitate to sacrifice themselves when necessary. The last thing they do is expect a team member to lay down his life while the leader stays in the background.

Where are you when the going gets tough and dirty? Are you at the front of the line, ready to take the first hit?

So based on this short HITS quotient, should President-Elect Trump take the test? How would he fair?

Whether you’re an office manager, big-shot CEO, or leader of a nation, if you’re living your Truthiness Quotient to the fullest then you’re practicing a form of servant leadership. This is where you have created a loyal followership. And yes, President-Elect Trump had, and continues to have, an intensely loyal followership. But it has been of a short duration. What counts is a sustained loyal followership over the long-term, and whether it’s working towards the collective good of society.

So the big question is: are we living in a post-leadership world?

I must follow the people. Am I not their leader?
—Benjamin Disraeli (former British Prime Minister, )

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