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Sarah Palin on Paul Revere – Why some people can’t admit mistakes and the damage it does

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From Yahoo News… Sarah Palin’s Version of Paul Revere’s Famous Ride.

You might have learned that Paul Revere warned colonists “the British are coming,” but according to Sarah Palin, Revere warned the Brits too. On her East Coast bus tour, Palin said that Revere, “warned the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms by ringing those bells.”

The video has gotten almost 2 million views on YouTube (watch it). But since Revere didn’t warn the British and didn’t use bells, Palin is taking a lot of heat for her account of history. On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked Palin, “You realize that you messed up about Paul Revere, don’t you?” Palin responded, “I didn’t mess up about Paul Revere. … Part of his ride was to warn the British that were already there. That, hey, you’re not going to succeed. You’re not going to take American arms,” she explained. “He did warn the British.”

Many of Palin’s supporters agree with her, and some are trying to create a new revised version of Paul Revere’s midnight ride on Wikipedia.

Here Palin had an unplanned opportunity at two different points in time.  She had an opportunity to: 1) provide, in an informal public setting, what she knows about american history.  2) a few days later confront a historical mistake that she made.  What did she implicitly tell us about her knowledge and character in these opportunities?

The real key here is, “I didn’t mess up about Paul Revere..”.  She shows herself to be one of those that “can’t be wrong” along with the follow-on of denial and “finding a way to be right”.  In some cases, the path for people caught in a lie or mistake is denial followed by contrition.  At the time of this writing Palin is in denial.  Only time will tell if this will lead to contrition (I’m sorry, I made a mistake).  Another path is commitment to her position and irrational behavior.  If she takes this later route then we will learn even more about her character and judgement.

Why can’t people admit when they are wrong?  In some cases, it’s a lack of self-esteem, lack of self-confidence, the inability to accept criticism, and any combination of the above.  The inability to take criticism, learn from mistakes, move on and become better takes a toll on one’s career.  Worst of all these folks lose the trust of friends, colleagues, or followers.  They do damage to the organizations, companies, or nations they lead or influence.

Why the inability to admit mistakes matters in organizations and nations.

A couple of guys, Ori and Rom Brafman, did some research on irrational behavior.  The inability of folks to admit mistakes, carried far enough, leads to irrational behavior.  The inability to admit mistakes, in the hands of corporate executives or national leaders, can undermine  a company or a nation.  In some cases, it is literally a matter of life and death of thousands of people and the legacy of a reputation of poor judgement that will affect future perceptions.

Brafman, in the book: Sway: The irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior cites two examples of irrational behavior applied to political leaders – President Lyndon B Johnson and George Bush – that was a matter or life and death for tens of  thousands of Americans

In the Vietnam War and the War with Iraq these leaders were caught between two forces: First, a commitment not to lose and second the momentum of what is going on. (Read for background – How to Auction off  a $20 bill at the link below)

But in just a few years later LBJ was already deep into the third stage of the auction.  With more than 500,000 troops on the ground in 1968 and tens of thousands dead, LBJ was long past the $20 mark.  He lamented, “Light at the end of the tunnel, hell, we don’t even have a tunnel; we don’t know where the tunnel is.”… the president was getting beat but could not bring himself to change course.

In the end, Johnson lost more than Vietnam.  The war cost him the full realization of the Great Society, his approval ratings, and ultimately – when he decided not to run for another presidential term – his political career.

LBJ and Bush share this combination of commitment, and unusual optimism is the face of tremendous loss.

Both presidents showed strong commitment and resolve to stay the course.  LBJ stated:

We will not be defeated.  We will not grow tired.  We will not withdraw, either openly or under a cloak of a meaningless agreement.

President Bush asserted,

We will not fail.  We will persevere and defeat this enemy and hold hard-won ground for the realm of liberty.

 We all know the outcomes of these two wars and the reputation that America has for it.

The Take –  Irrational behavior – The convergence of loss aversion and commitment

So here we can learn a lot about Palin in the coming days as this Paul Revere thing works itself out.  Right now, in denial, Palin is trying to manage loss to her credibility of not having basic knowledge of American history.  She is also on the path of commitment,  “I didn’t mess up about Paul Revere. … “. 

If Brafman is right then we will expect to see some irrational behavior on her part. 

Perhaps here is a start by her followers who want to “make her right” no matter what.  And the “no matter what” is to undermine history itself rather than come to a realization that Palin might have been mistaken on her off hand comment on her version of Paul Revere’s ride.

Many of Palin’s supporters agree with her, and some are trying to create a new revised version of Paul Revere’s midnight ride on Wikipedia.

In short, beware of people who can’t admit making mistakes.  In executive leadership positions the inability of these folks to take a hit to their ego or  self-esteem can undermine an organization, company, or nation.  In the mind of these folks that can’t admit they made a mistake it is more important to be “right” than all the negative consequences to the stakeholders they may influence. 

For these folks, Ego to self is more important  than any negative consequences to others.  And this will become obvious to anyone as events play themselves out.

Will Palin admit she made a mistake?  Can her ego take it?  We’ll see in the coming days and weeks.

Perhaps this “historical mistake” is a small matter now.  But if she runs for President of the United States…

Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters 
– Albert Einstein

Resources

https://frrl.wordpress.com/2009/06/27/sway-the-irresistible-pull-of-irrational-behavior

Read and listen (highly recommended)  to a story about … Cognitive Dissonance: The Engine of Self-justification
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=12125926

A bit of career advice from Cisco CEO John Chambers
https://frrl.wordpress.com/2010/10/06/quotable-ceo-john-chambers-on-credibility-learning-from-mistakes/

The story from The Paul Revere House,

On the evening of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere was sent for by Dr. Joseph Warren and instructed to ride to Lexington, Massachusetts, to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that British troops were marching to arrest them. After being rowed across the Charles River to Charlestown by two associates, Paul Revere borrowed a horse from his friend Deacon John Larkin. While in Charlestown, he verified that the local “Sons of Liberty” committee had seen his pre-arranged signals. (Two lanterns had been hung briefly in the bell-tower of Christ Church in Boston, indicating that troops would row “by sea” across the Charles River to Cambridge, rather than marching “by land” out Boston Neck. Revere had arranged for these signals the previous weekend, as he was afraid that he might be prevented from leaving Boston).

On the way to Lexington, Revere “alarmed” the country-side, stopping at each house, and arrived in Lexington about midnight. As he approached the house where Adams and Hancock were staying, a sentry asked that he not make so much noise. “Noise!” cried Revere, “You’ll have noise enough before long. The regulars are coming out!” After delivering his message, Revere was joined by a second rider, William Dawes, who had been sent on the same errand by a different route. Deciding on their own to continue on to Concord, Massachusetts, where weapons and supplies were hidden, Revere and Dawes were joined by a third rider, Dr. Samuel Prescott. Soon after, all three were arrested by a British patrol. Prescott escaped almost immediately, and Dawes soon after. Revere was held for some time and then released. Left without a horse, Revere returned to Lexington in time to witness part of the battle on the Lexington Green.

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Written by frrl

June 7, 2011 at 12:26 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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