Hillary’s Distorted Lens

Hillary Clinton’s private email server “scandal” has dominated most news outlets this week. In her role as Secretary of State, all emails on that server were supposed to be a matter of public record. Her resistance to turn over some of those emails has drawn sharp criticism from both sides of the political aisle. Julie Pace, AP White House correspondent wrote, “It’s difficult for [Hillary Clinton’s] complicated explanations about allegations to compete with the simplicity of political perception.” Her response signals a blurred lens through which she sees reality.

Moreover, her organizers – smart and talented as they may be – seem to have contributed to her distortion.

Hillary needs to revisit King Arthur’s Roundtable.

King Arthur’s Roundtable

A leader’s conscience acts like a judge, alternately accusing and defending us. If the leader’s lens is clear, its role is to identify wise and unwise paths of action. Unfortunately, this lens tends to bend with the warp and woof of leadership. The more it warps, the harder it is for leaders to make a proper distinction between right and wrong.

Then add groupthink to the mix, and the problem worsens. In their new book, Cass R. Sunstein, a former White House official, and Reid Hastie, an academic specialized in the psychology of decision making, combine their experiences and research to dissect what goes wrong to further distort the leader’s lens.1 According to these authors, group decision-making follows a predictable pattern: people keep information to themselves when it contradicts information from others – especially the leaders – to avoid punishment or marginalization.

This recipe serves up the distortion of groupthink. Instead of correcting the blurred lens of conscience, groups actually tend to amplify the problem. The leader’s conclusions are validated by the group.

Court Jester

An antidote to this distortion is found at King Arthur’s Roundtable in the character of the “court jester.” The king knew that that power makes leaders excessively self-righteous. The same goes for kingdoms. The safeguard was satire. Court jesters saved the life of a king or a country by calling out the blurred lens.

Leadership Circle

Leaders like Clinton need to expand their leadership circle to include those who discern whether the organization is functioning with a clear view of reality. Too often the “court jester” type – or “prophet” to use another image – is at the fringe of the corporate circle. The courageous move is not just to listen to these colleagues, but to institutionalize their contribution. They are invaluable for healthy leaders and those they lead.

The leader’s lens of conscience is an essential game changer. Hillary can’t get over it, and won’t get around it. Her commitment to a clear lens will define her future.

1 Cass R. Sunstein and Reid Hastie, Wiser: Getting beyond groupthink to make groups smarter, Harvard Review Press, 2015.

Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan

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