Storytelling in Pursuit of Truth: Crisis Communications in the Post-Truth Era

That post-truth is accorded airtime in public discourse signals a crisis of trust in our institutions. We cannot survive as a coherent community, polity or economy when prejudiced opinions, alternative facts, conspiracy theories and fake news are given credence. As behavioral scientists, leadership educators and executive coaches, we must discern crucial distinctions between leading and lying - and be unambiguous when we work with our clients and students. We are called to defend rationality and reasonableness as personal and professional acts of civil obedience. 

A leader’s duty is to tell the truth. On a normal day, truth-telling may require no more than citing data. But in fraught times and during organizational crises, there is an added dimension: leaders who communicate “just the facts” when their organizations are shocked can leave their followers shaken. Abdicating responsibility to make sense of things opens the door to ground-level interpretations, conspiracy theories and emotional contagion. Whether the challenge is to tell the truth and tell it fast as early responders, or to communicate effectively as executives leading from behind the lines, leaders need to tell stories in order to insert themselves into events, provide context, and express emotion - to make enough meaning so that their followers will follow (Hutson and Johnson, 2016).

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