I was, as is frequently the case when driving for more than a half-hour, listening to the Bob Edwards Show. He was interviewing Jeff Sharlet, the author of the book Sweet Heaven When I Die, which as he puts it, is about "belief, unbelief, and the country in between". Mr. Sharlet told a story which put some context into a situation where a gunman, supposedly "possessed by demons", opened fire inside of a church in North Carolina.
As he describes it, Sharlet was interviewing the sheriff in the county in which this event occurred and as I take it, was struggling with understanding, or believing, in how demonic possession was even being seriously discussed in this day and age. Apparently, the sheriff reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a gun, which he pointed at Mr. Sherlet. After explaining that the gun was actually a toy, the Sheriff related that if the reverse had happened, any respectable law enforcement officer would have shot you. Things may not be real, he shared, but just because they're not real doesn't mean they can't hurt you.
Here at Firehouse Zen we spend a pretty good amount of time discussing context and perspective, if anything, because it sits at the heart of many miscommunications and misunderstandings. Leaders have to contend with these issues daily and while some of the issues may not even be real issues, but instead, gossip, rumors, and innuendo, the issues still must be dealt with. In the eyes of those who don't have the facts to begin with, any fact is more concrete than no fact.
Leaders must get ahead of that curve and educate their people. They must build a relationship of trust and they must understand that while there are people in their organization who thrive on "stirring the pot", the enlightened leader must stay ahead of the game and insure total transparency to avoid those kinds of issues. And even then, like happens in our organization, you can be as transparent as possible and still have to endure the few shit-stirrers.
People believe what they want to believe. If you were an organization who strives for excellence, considers every issue carefully and logically to ensure maximum accountability for every fiscal decision, follows policies to the "T", and seeks alternative funding sources and resource sharing to ease the burden on the taxpayers, you would still have the fringe out there taking shots at you. And that hurts, but especially in this day and age when anonymity protects cowards and weasels on the internet, it continues to be a fact of life and a serious downside to leading.
Not only are you at the top when you lead, but you are also the most vulnerable to being taken out. Ask the families and friends of every leader who tried to make serious change, and you will find them to be able to relate all avenues of retaliation, humility, anger, and other hostile emotions having been directed at those individuals, and not excluding physical harm and even assassination.
Being a leader isn't just lonely, sometimes, it is harmful to your health. Belief is a strong emotion and whatever people believe has got to be addressed in one form or another. But the safest way to manage the beliefs of others is through honesty, transparency, and honorable values. Setting a positive example through ethical actions will tend to win out in the end, or at least it does in the movies.