Bad Leadership Lessons: Ignorance is Never Bliss

Knowledge is the foundation of effective leadership decisions. That’s so obvious I’m embarrassed to have to write it down. But in this age called “post-fact” even by people who know that facts are important, it’s time to restate the obvious, as loudly and as often as we can.

Today’s bad leadership blog answers the question: Why might some leaders fear the facts, believing that ignorance is bliss? There are three huge reasons for this misconception.

1. Facts and a clear understanding of them often challenge a leader’s personal vision of the world. So a bad leader will cling to ignorance as a way to prevent any challenge to their ideas about who they are, what they believe, or how they want to behave. This is disastrous, because by ignoring facts and complexities in the world, they also cling to simplistic solutions that only create more problems for themselves and their followers.

2. Ignorance allows a wanna-be leader to imagine that they are powerful beyond their real grasp, which feels good, even though it only causes other people pain. Bad leaders are really leaders who don’t know how to lead, in real world terms. So when a leader embraces ignorance, they are embracing unrealistic ideas about the world, cherry picking among myths, half-facts and convenient truths to support their “solutions.” In the end, these solutions will inevitably fail because they don’t address the real problems, the problems a bad leader refuses even to see.

3. Ignoring facts and oversimplifying the world makes some followers temporarily feel confident, because, like TV sitcoms, simple stories about the problems we have are comforting. But simple stories are also fictional, and in the real world, dangerously delusional. Ignorance may generate a temporary feeling of bliss, but it’s the bliss of a child clutching a security blanket while his parents fight loudly and violently in the next room. The difficult and complex world spins on, no matter what bedtime stories a bad leader might be telling himself and his followers.

Any leader can be tempted to oversimplify, to protect their misconceptions of the world, and to cheat their followers by spreading lies and half-truths in order to feel more powerful. A good leader will build good leadership solutions from self-knowledge and knowledge of the world. When they’re tempted to lead from the shaky ground of fear or greed, they’ll step back and assess the situation before causing new problems. Bad leaders can’t see the difference, because they keep themselves and their followers in the dark, forgetting that ignorance is never bliss.

Next up: LEADING FROM THE TRENCHES: What people forced to work with bad leaders can do in the face of ignorance.

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