Beware The Court of Public Opinion

Shawnee Love   •  January 29, 2021

I am increasingly worried about the trend towards trying ideas and people in the Court of Public Opinion.  This kind of behaviour has created something I call “Squeaky Wheel Leadership”, i.e., leaders spend all their time reacting to those who speak (or type) the loudest. While it is understandable to want to appease, not offend or simply be liked, just because someone has an opinion or comment which they publish does not make it true, representative of anyone else’s experiences, or even a priority. Squeaky wheel leadership means the really important stuff gets ignored or put off and the organization or team suffers.

The desire of organizational leaders to quiet noisy dissidents is understandable when you consider:

  • People will often copy or follow the actions of who they believe are like them.
  • Many people truly believe what they read on the internet with no thought to the reliability or validity of the source.
  • Negative comments seem to have more impact and influence than positive.

These three points cause some people to worry that a bad review or complaint shared on the media could be quite harmful to their organization.

However, when we jump to respond and seek to convince the critics that their opinions and experiences are misguided, we are simply feeding them.

Risk #1: Some of these critics are distractions from what you are trying to achieve rather than people who contribute meaningful information.

But even if they do have important information about a product or service gone awry:

Risk #2: It is one person’s experience.  Put it in context. Does it truly deserve the focus it receives?

While I do believe criticisms can be gifts if you learn from them, the court of public opinion is a kangaroo court.

When you get a bad rating or negative comments, for sure find out what happened. Figure out how to do better.

This kind of court has no power but that which leaders give to them. Don’t be at the mercy of the lowest and loudest common denominator. Rather, ensure your organization provides effective processes for questions to be answered, conflicts to be resolved, and complaints to be addressed, and then stay focused on the goals you are trying to achieve.

Do not let the water steer the ship!