I recently had the chance to spend time with a former CEO of several companies. Our discussion was fairly long and comprehensive touching on multiple topics and issues facing modern organizations.

When I asked him what he thought the most dangerous threat an organization he led dealt with, he never hesitated.

“Deception,” he flatly stated.deception

“Not strong competition, the increased use of analytics and data or shifting consumer demands?” I quickly offered.

“Not even close,” he shot back.

Deception, as he defined it, is a subtle yet incredibly powerful disease inside organizations particularly at the senior level. Deception causes companies to most often see or believe things about itself that aren’t real.

Symptoms are numerous. Thinking your products or services are ‘best in class’ when they’re not. Misreading trends and ignoring behavior regarding purchase of your products. Discounting the competition as slow, inept or irrelevant only to find they are gaining or even passing you. Believing your employees ‘get it’ and are engaged or that leadership is aligned and integrated when the truth paints a different picture. Not comprehending your brand relevance is slipping or your pricing model is causing customers to try other options.

And the worst form of deception – “when the company fails to learn every day something new about itself from its stakeholders,” he stressed.

“In all my years as CEO, deception was the root cause of many bad decisions or misjudgments. However, it’s only recently that I’ve come to this conclusion after wrongly citing all the typical business challenges as reasons for success or failure. In fact one might argue that the marketplace and societal changes we are experiencing and the growing need for data and information to operate our companies are causing more acute deception in organizations today.”


“We manipulate the data or the research stimuli to game the system, he said. We measure only what our bias tells us, using the ‘data’ to justify that thinking,” he said. To avoid such corporate foibles you must design the data model to find things you don’t know and to be critical in terms of insights gleaned from the data. Analytics are akin to a new set of eyes if employed properly and the accompanying insights a prescription for success.”

So is there any guidance for today’s organizations and leaders to mitigate deception?

Our CEO who now sits on several boards and advises peers in similar roles offered the following technique as a viable means to keeping things real in the Board Room and the Executive Strategy Meetings.

Every leadership meeting where decisions are being made should include what he referred to as the “Clear Mind Rule.”

The “Clear Mind Rule” is no more than three points regarding any argument, rationale or request for funding, resources or approval regarding a plan, program, initiative or policy:

The three points are as follows:

  1. Facts surrounding the topic
    • Current state (product/service sales, share, profit, pipeline or challenge – retention, engagement, quality, cost, productivity, policy)
    • Competition or problem to solve (sales, share, profit, pipeline or labor strike, closure, etc.)
  2. Forecast or projected activity, behavior
    • Audience sentiment (customer, employee)
    • Competitive threats and moves
    • Customer uncertainties (M&A, new leadership, changing internal dynamics)
  3. Future
    • What’s around the corner?

The Ask: the decision needed to succeed

Applying the “Clear Mind Rule” to all key decision planning discussions places much needed rigor and discipline into organizational thinking, which in turn, eliminates the potential for deception. The process actually forces leaders and managers to see new and different information and opens up more critical thinking land inquiry amongst the larger team. It keeps communications honest and relevant encouraging disagreement and probing for deeper meanings.”

Given everything that companies, brands and leaders face in directing organizations to achieve success, the last thing anyone would want to exacerbate such a reality is a self-inflicted wound.

“Deception, if not discovered and addressed, is poison to business excellence and success!,” he emphatically stated. It can be removed but you first need to identify its root cause and apply the right measures.

Maybe it’s time to determine if your company is afflicted and if so, do you have the antidote?