Leadership at the Intersection of Business and Politics: Everything Said is Said by Someone
Written By Dick Massimilian
Published Summer 2020
“Everything said is said by someone.” – Humberto Maturana
Always consider not just what is being said, but who is saying it, and why. As Chilean biologist Maturana noted, the message may be distinct from the messenger, but the two are inextricably linked. You cannot evaluate what is said without considering who is saying it. Astute leaders know this instinctively.
This is perhaps easiest to understand in the context of the current debate over “fake news.” I think we can all agree that certain media outlets and some journalists are overtly partisan while claiming they are not. Here the link between what is said and who says it is clear.
Evaluating Expert Opinion
This gets trickier once we enter the domain of “experts.” In business or politics – a couple of key questions are useful when evaluating expert opinion:
- For what tangible results are or have the expert(s) been accountable? Does the expert produce a tangible result? If a physician has completed 300 successful surgeries, that’s one thing. If she has “a long and distinguished career studying this issue,” quite another.
- Does the expert speak in general or specific terms? Useful rule of thumb: the truth is very specific. Lies are general. If an expert speaks in generalities and can’t or won’t be specific, that is not a good sign.
If the Human Resources executive telling you that you need to close your facility has a long history of collaboration and places a high premium on human interaction, you can be confident that you need to close. Conversely, if he’s urging you to remain open, ask questions. If the Human Resources executive telling you that you need to close has a high need for control, ask questions. If he’s telling you to remain open, you can be confident that you can.
The more contentious the issue, the more attention the leader should devote to who is saying what and why. When tackling the hot button issues of the day: diversity, sustainability, equity et al, slow down. Consider context. Proceed with extreme caution. Doing so will not in and of itself tell you what to do. But it will vastly increase the clarity with which you do it.
Everything said is said by someone.
Read my other articles in the series, “Leadership at the Intersection of Business and Politics”:
How to Navigate an Increasingly Politicized World
Shift the Narrative