Perhaps nothing undermines great strategy faster than the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves.

While I have heard a lot of strategic whoppers over the years, three stand out:

  • “We are the Harvard of Kansas.”
    • Variation: “We are the Wheaton of Tennessee.”
  • “We are nationally known.”
    • Variation: “Our program in accounting or nursing or… is nationally known.”
  • If we would do a better job marketing…we would have more students.”
    • Variation: “If more people were aware of us we wouldn’t have an enrollment problem.”

 

These lies, even when uttered with the best intention, do more to damage than you can possibly imagine. Let me explain why.

First, leaders that ignore or distort the realities of their situation undermine their own credibility. As a result, their supporters have a difficult time believing what these leaders say. Once lost, credibility is very difficult to regain.

Second, institutions that succumb to dangerous little lies suffer because dollars are wasted and time is lost. In addition, their competitors are both strengthened end emboldened.

Third, the acceptance of dangerous little lies has a chilling impact on the campus truth tellers. Over time, these people will quickly learn that truth is less valued, even fungible. They will withdraw their ideas and insights from the conversation.

There is perhaps a fourth reason to avoid dangerous little lies: They are increasingly easy to prove false. We are awash in data and it has never been easier to show your level of academic quality, the schools with whom you really compete for students, or the states or regions of the country from which your students come.

Truth is the bedrock of effective great visions, effective strategy, and transformational change and all institutions benefit when their plans begin with a clear and truthful understanding of their situation and their marketplace.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” I’ve always liked that quote.

 

And here is another: Borrowing from Confucius, “The beginning of wisdom is calling things as they really are.”

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