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Sunday, April 14, 2024
CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - CEO Insider - You Earned Trust, Now Use It

CEO Insider

You Earned Trust, Now Use It

Business CEOs are among the most trusted people in the world, according to Edelman’s 2021 Trust Barometer, which reports that a whopping 86% of people expect CEOs to “speak out” on societal issues such as the pandemic, job automation, and community decline.

With trust and status comes responsibility. CEOs have both. You have an opportunity to be relevant not just to your organization’s success, but to history.  How should you respond to your trusted position in society?  

Rarely has the need been greater for trusted spokespersons to speak truth to power. Perhaps the greatest challenge facing both democracy and markets is declining trust in truth, what President Biden, at his inauguration, called the “Lies told for power and for profit.” Neither democracy nor a free market can sustain themselves unless people share a common understanding of the consequences of their actions. Compromise and contracts are impossible without shared facts and agreed up rules. Any group activity—sports, games, politics, supply chains—requires agreeing on rules, referees, and reality.

Unfortunately, humans are hard-wired to deny facts. Confirmation bias helps us believe most anything that supports long held beliefs, easily recall “facts” that support past decisions, and actively suppress memories that don’t. Confirmation bias also explains why anecdotes are so powerful: people remember one instance that confirms their expectations and emphasize it over all other information. Filter bubbles put confirmation bias on steroids. They feed you information that supports your biases and filter out contrary information. Internet search engines personalize your requests based on what you liked and clicked in the past. You subscribe to news feeds that support your assumptions. You socialize with like-minded people who find and share information that reinforces your shared biases. People sharing a filter bubble generate and share information that reinforces their worldview. The result is that people focus on different facts, interpret facts differently, and don’t validate their facts outside their filter bubble.  But that’s not the worst of it.

Evolutionary pressures also selected for identity protective reasoning. Humans are social animals. Recognizing and cooperating with members of one’s group enhanced reproductive success, as did recognizing and being cautious of out-group members who could harm your group and your offspring. We therefore are predisposed to quickly distinguish in-group from out-group members. We identify with and protect the group to which we belong. During humanity’s evolutionary journey, when evolution selected for this trait, the groups we identified with were family and tribe. Now we identify with groups defined by political party, citizenship, gender orientation, educational background, and favorite media outlet. Example topics that signal group affiliation and trigger identity protective reasoning include guns, homosexuality, global trade, abortion, sustainability, government regulation, religion, taxes, and climate change.

By default, we quickly construct arguments to defend our identity and the reputation of our group.  It matters less that those arguments align with reality than that they convince others that we belong to and support the group and thus worthy of status, mating, and protection. In the analogy provided by Jonathan Haidt, we reason like a lawyer, constructing an argument to prove our client’s innocence, rather than think like a scientist testing our logic against reality.

Echo chambers amplify identity protective reasoning. An echo chamber actively undermines anyone who disagrees with community doctrine or threatens group identity. Dissenting voices that privilege facts over identity are not just excluded, as in the case of a filter bubble, they are actively discredited. The echo chamber actively discredits opponents and rewards discrediting, creates feedback loops that strengthen the chamber’s boundaries, ravages any contrary information that might get through, and threatens anyone who questions the group’s dogma. Worse, it creates intolerance of collaboration and compromise because collaboration becomes working with the enemy and compromise becomes conceding to the enemy. That’s human nature.

Perversely, more highly-educated people tend to be better at identity protective reasoning because they are better trained to marshal the facts and arguments that they and others in their group can then use to defend their group’s identity and positions.

So, what should you do if you want to play a role in history and speak truth to power? 

Be strategic. Pick your battles. Counterintuitively, you should target leaders who are not telling the truth rather than focus on the less committed and less informed general public.

The leaders of groups tend to be the most educated, informed, and invested. They are going to have tons of facts and logic at their disposal to defend their positions—they will be able to go toe-to-toe with you and your facts and logic, making for tedious, arcane, difficult conversations. Yet—and here is your challenge—you’ll have more impact if you target them, rather than people who are undecided and less informed.

Most people don’t have the time, ability, or motivation to dig into the nuance. They accept the positions and facts proffered by the leaders of groups they identify with. For example, a person skeptical of climate action or immigration may not want to learn about the environmental risks of climate science or the economic benefits of free trade and immigration, no matter how motivated you are to teach them. They are skeptical of climate change or immigration, not because of factual ignorance, but because they identify with a group that opposes climate action or immigration reform. The only way to change their minds is to change the position of their group, which means change the minds of group leaders.

If you can change the minds of elites and group leaders, countless others will follow. This means you need to engage and persuade the best educated and most informed people on the other side. Buckle up! No one else has the trust, status, and capacity to do it. It’s your time. Stand up!


Written by R. Bruce Hull.


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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - CEO Insider - You Earned Trust, Now Use It
R. Bruce Hull
R. Bruce Hull is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability at Virginia Tech, which provides graduate education and professional development opportunities for sustainability professionals working at the intersection of business, government, and civil society. He has authored and edited numerous publications, including two books, Infinite Nature (University of Chicago Press) and Restoring Nature (Island Press). He is co-author of a new book by Island Press that explains and illustrates many strategies for dealing with trust, collaboration, and innovation by businesses, government agencies, and social benefit organizations: Leadership for Sustainability: Strategies for Tackling Wicked Problems. R. Bruce Hull is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on LinkedIn.