When leaders ignore the facts

Why leadership also means to be led by evidence

An important decision was about to be made in the organisation.

Seven-figure sums were invested in research and development over several months. The task was to design a new customer product and give it the right features to fit the customer’s needs. After an elaborate process, the decision was made: from an initial six variants, variant two was to go into production.

Photo by Agence Olloweb on Unsplash

“I prefer variant four,” the CEO intervened personally. The research and development department tried to argue, but the CEO did not change his mind. During the discussion, the CEO was asked which product features he expected. According to his description, only variant two was possible, which was also preferred by the customers interviewed. The CEO was not interested. Variant number four, which he had personally chosen, went into serial production. The product subsequently fell short of sales expectations. The blame was attributed to the research and development department, marketing and sales.

Consequences

As a result, the organisation experienced high staff turnover. Talent acquisition became increasingly difficult or even impossible. The lack of revenue made it impossible to increase recruiting budgets. A downward spiral began, which could only be stopped by replacing the CEO and managers that acted loyally to him. The damage was estimated in the tens of millions. It took several years after this incident that the organisation was able to regain its previously established position. No apology was made at any time.

Arbitrariness

Making decisions is not easy. However, it is part of the job of any leader to do so. When making decisions, you must justify them in detail when conflict arises. A clear explanation, scientific evidence, and a demonstrable factual (business) case are essential for a decision. Arbitrariness is to be avoided in any case. Phrases such as “I have more experience than anyone else in this room” or “Why don’t you trust me” are not even among the worst variants of arbitrariness.

It is important to note here that making a decision does not mean it always has to be made by majority consensus or grassroots democracy by vote. If a factual situation, which can be scientifically proven, is denied by the majority, then a decision must be made against that majority.

Principles of good leadership always include that the facts are the leading factor, that scientific evidence guides decision-making and that any form of arbitrariness must be avoided.

Organisational culture

The consequences for the organisational culture are serious. Suppose you, as a senior leader, do not follow research, development, facts and scientific evidence. In that case, you give every person who works for the organisation a good reason not to do so. Statements such as “I don’t agree” or “My experience leads me to a different decision” will quickly become final statements in your organisation. A culture of arbitrariness leads to high employee turnover and low productivity.

If you see managers in the organisation who do not stick to the facts, address this promptly and always offer help so they see a chance for personal development. However, if all measures do not help, the organisation must remove fact-free leaders. This step is done to protect a sustainable evidence-based organisational culture.

More on dealing with leaders who ignore the facts
in this week’s podcast: click here to listen in.

Do you care about sustainable evidence-based leadership?
Let’s talk: NB@NB-Networks.com.

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Niels Brabandt

Niels Brabandt

Niels Brabandt is in business since 1998. Helping managers to become better leaders by mastering the concept of Sustainable Leadership. Based in Spain & London.