In his amazing little book, “On Bullshit,” Harry Frankfurt tells us that bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.
It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensible that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the truth or the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the thing he says describes reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose. (55-56)
The liar has to recognize the authority of the truth before he willingly rejects it. The bullshitter does not reject the authority of the truth; rather, he pays no attention to it at all. The truth is simply not that important.
The fog of bullshit is dangerous to leadership because it entices us to abandon the pursuit of what is true and correct versus what is false and incorrect. Many of our differences, we are told, are merely a matter of perception; consequently, sincerity trumps objective reality.
Rather than seeking primarily to arrive at accurate representations of a common world, the individual turns toward trying to provide honest representations of himself. Convinced that reality has no inherent nature, which he might hope to identify as the truth about things, he devotes himself to being true to his own nature. It is as though he decides that since it makes no sense to try to be true to the facts, he must therefore try instead to be true to himself. (66-67)
Leadership’s quest for the “right thing to do” is based not only on the belief that there is a correct course of action that merits impassioned pursuit, but also that there is a wrong way that may seem right but must be vigorously opposed. Leadership must be as alert to and intolerant of bullshit as it is of lies.
We can all “just get along”, but not until every one of us agrees to never allow any one of us to force the rest of us to ignore or deny a lie. There is no way we can look each other in the eyes and trust each other when we all know we are standing knee deep in bullshit.