There is considerable momentum these days in favor of supporting an argument with firm evidence. Several news reports earlier this week about the ouster of JC Penney’s CEO Johnson after only 18 months on the job stated that his ideas were based on gut instinct, rather than evidence or testing. While there are undoubtedly many other factors that led to his dismissal, investors and boards take a dim view these days of leaders who operate solely on belief. That’s not to say that instinct isn’t important, or that Johnson isn’t talented (he is, and remains respected for his retail prowess). But today’s hyper-driven, high performance expectations business world does not have patience for those that cannot quickly deliver results (right or wrong). Providing evidence to support claims lends credibility to the author. At the same time, bold new ideas should be encouraged, so the challenge is how leaders are able to tie the uncertainty of their proposed innovations with the realities of what their organizations have confronted--in effect, using evidence to build confidence.
On the political front, we’ve seen how evidence can be sidetracked by bluster. Witness the sheer volume of protests from the NRA in its efforts to derail gun control legislation. Evidence, like science, is hard to refute, yet gun advocates are using bluster to support their case. Shouting is not evidence...it is just loud and, like any noise, people will eventually turn down their volume controls when it becomes irritating, which is one of the reasons a dozen or so GOP senators that tried to filibuster the gun control legislation yesterday, in an attempt to prevent debate on the Senate floor, were defeated. Gun rights advocates would be better served with a reasoned, evidence based argument, allowing their perspective to be more thoughtfully considered in comparison to the point of view from gun control advocates.
With respect to leadership, Harvard b-school’s Rosabeth Moss Kanter wrote a piece in HBR online back in February in which she quoted General Douglas MacArthur, who said that “revenge is not justice”. She adds that revenge is also not strategy. As we watch the NRA make threats of revenge against those in Congress who support gun control legislation, one has to wonder how effective such a scorched earth tactic will be in furthering the long-term aims of 2nd amendment absolutists. Kanter points out that many of the great leaders we admire gain their respect, and place in history, because they forgive. It is unlikely the NRA will forgive those who vote for gun control, but is revenge the best response? Missing from their arguments is a sense of controlled, thoughtful persuasion based on evidence. And their credibility is further hampered by evidence that its own leadership has contradicted its position over the years, from once supporting background checks to reversing this stance in more recent times.
Wherever one stands on the issues of the day, it seems clear that evidence and forgiveness are a useful combination for helping to build credibility, and trust. A key test of leadership is knowing how to use these two ingredients to create value, while consciously resisting the temptation to shout or use revenge, which risk destroying value.