- Leandro Herrero - https://leandroherrero.com -

Compelling narrative and truth are, of course, two different things. Leadership must make them inseparable


For months now a picture of a pack of wolfs walking in the snow has been circulated in many social platforms. This is one of the accounts:

See the guy way back in the pack- (s)he is the LEADER.

“A wolf pack: the first 3 are the old or sick, they give the pace to the entire pack. If it was the other way round, they would be left behind, losing contact with the pack. In case of an ambush they would be sacrificed. Then come 5 strong ones, the front line. In the center are the rest of the pack members, then the 5 strongest following. Last is alone, the alpha. He controls everything from the rear. In that position he can see everything, decide the direction. He sees all of the pack. The pack moves according to the elders pace and help each other, watch each other.”

What a wonderful narrative for leadership in action. What a smart analogy of the varieties of leadership, the pace of the organization, the internal dynamics of this complex organism that we call the company. What a delightful metaphor for how strengths and weakness play in leadership. What a brilliant piece of the intersection between leadership in business and society and human nature in both its vulnerability and its strengths.

What a pity that the story was a hoax. Quoting wolf experts, which does not include me as one, the whole thing is a lot of crap.

So crap wins if the narrative is sound. Nothing new here. From conspiracy theories to the imminent threat of the activation of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a cohesive argument can be put forward and be compelling. Internal consistency is the killer. The more internal constancy, the greater the credibility. That is how Psychoanalysis was built. But both internal consistency and credibility have nothing to do with each other.

Creating an internally consistent and compelling narrative is actually a child’s play. Here is how Blair’s memo to Bush put it:

In Britain, right now I couldn’t be sure of support from parliament, party, public or even some of the cabinet. (…) If we recapitulate all the WMD evidence; add his attempt to secure nuclear capability; and, as seems possible, add on al-Qaida link, it will be hugely persuasive over here’ (…) Plus, of course, the abhorrent nature of the regime”.

Solid narratives have great pull effect. You can challenge them of course, but there is something in the human mind that quite likes the idea of a solid construct. What could we do in the Jewish-Christian tradition without a massive exodus in the narrative? Without the Promise Land of Milk and Honey? Really? But the archaeological evidence does not want to play ball. Is that needed though? No. As I wrote before ‘the validity of (this) root narrative many not be terrible relevant; after all, entire tribes have been created and sustained under the root narrative of ancestors crossing rivers that did not exist, fighting wars that did not take place, or for years wandering deserts that nobody have touched.

So here is the (ethical) leadership challenge: a compelling narrative that is truthful; the truth translated into a narrative. Their dissociation, their dislocation, is dishonest. Yet, we seem to see it every day in front of us. Making them inseparable, the ethical imperative of leadership.