A Stroke Of The Pen

It fascinates me when people write or say things as fact when, in fact, they are not. I was reading an article about recent Supreme Court rulings which stated that with a stroke of the pen the Supreme Court had “saddled more than 40 million people with $430 billion in debt.” Regardless of your opinion and feelings about the issue of education debt, the Supreme Court did not saddle anyone with anything. Each of those more than 40 million individuals made a choice that resulted in them having debt.

This was written by a lawyer and legal fellow at the ACLU’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg Liberty Center. His resume includes degrees from Yale Law School, Princeton University, the University of Oxford, and the London School of Economics. He has written opinion pieces in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and other national publications. And his bias is showing.

How we communicate significantly impacts our culture. 

Everyone has biases. Everyone. How you were raised, where you were raised, what books you read, things you listen to, your friends, your socioeconomic status, your racial and cultural background, your beliefs, your experiences. All these and more give you a unique and biased view of the world. In many ways, your particular view is an advantage to a diverse community. Seeing things from a different perspective helps solve problems, identify opportunities, and generate creative plans. 

Bias is not helpful or healthy when we (knowingly or unknowingly) use it to manipulate people and cloud the truth to make our position or desire more palatable to others. The press does this a lot. A new study by researchers at the University of Rochester analyzed 1.8 million news headlines from major U.S. news outlets spanning 2014 to 2022. “We observed a lot of subtle differences in the words they choose when they cover the same high-level topics,” said Hanjia Lyu, a computer science PhD student who was the lead author of the study. These headlines are intentionally designed to represent a particular bias regardless of the facts related to the underlying story.

Leaders do this a lot too—but not good ones. When this happens, it is often rationalized as necessary. It may be explained as an attempt to prevent worry or panic. Perhaps the information is deemed too complicated for those in the organization to comprehend. Sometimes it is a thinly veiled attempt to prevent people from discerning the actual goals or intent of the leadership. 

The question we should be asking ourselves is do we trust our people?

If we truly value our team members and are committed to their success (as well as the success of our other stakeholders), we should be as unbiasedly honest with them as possible. This is often referred to as “open book” management. The name derives from the practice of making the complete financials of the company available to all team members, “opening the books,” but it goes much further. It also includes sharing the vision, the strategy, and all the ways we track our success, so everyone knows what we are trying to accomplish and how we are doing.

One result of honesty and transparency from leadership is having a team where everyone is pulling in the same direction and understands how their behavior and decisions impact the success of the team. The more important result is trust. If we are acting in the entire team’s best interest, we have nothing to hide. Hiding nothing is the best way to show people this is true.

A healthy culture treats all members of the community as valued partners and shares honest and unbiased information with them so they can be their most effective. Whether it is a stroke of the pen, a tap of the keyboard, or the words we say, we should strive to be transparent and unbiased in the information we give people. Being known for being honest is the mark of a great leader, and it is The Bison Way.