Leadership In the Age of Cynicism and Fake News

Shattered window pane

Have you noticed the shift in attitude among your friends and coworkers? Have you noticed that cynicism and skepticism have become normalized? Information we formerly trusted is now regarded as potentially correct. Communication from leaders that used to bring clarity and hope is now filtered through skepticism and doubt. This new atmosphere of mistrust and doubt raises the bar for leaders in authenticity, transparency, and integrity.


At the mere mention of President Trump, you’re almost guaranteed to get a head-lifting eye-roll. The same goes for mentions of Congress or one of its members. There was a day when you could guess someone’s political leaning by watching their reaction to the name-dropping of a political figure. That’s no longer the case.

The same can be said for many so-called business leaders. Where I live, Wells Fargo is a very prominent institution. Revelation of the fake account scandal and the internal culture of cheating and lying brought cynicism about business leadership to a new high. This one goes right to the top of the organization with the WF board of directors stripping 2016 bonuses from CEO Tim Sloan and seven of his executives.

The film industry has always been an effective mechanism for highlighting a specific element of culture or the human existence either to make a point or to poke fun at people and culture. Of course, many films do both. However, as an article in the Washington Post points out,

it feels as if cynicism is having its own moment of reckoning, having so thoroughly saturated politics and the culture at large that it no longer registers as anything other than same-old same-old.

Fake News

At the same time, we’ve all become sensitized to the problem of “fake news,” the deliberate spread of misinformation. During the 2016 presidential campaign cycle, many respected journalists were caught in fake news traps themselves, leading them to dub 2016 “the Year of Fake News.” It actually became a global phenomenon!

Fake news isn’t new, though. See this story about the 1880 presidential election which I linked in my article last week. Also, the Wikipedia article on fake news traces the matter back to Octavian’s 1st century campaign of misinformation against Mark Antony. Nevertheless, it has become so common that we are all asking, “How can I know what news to trust?”

All of this has changed how followers look at leaders. Followers are challenging leaders to increase their level of authenticity, transparency, and integrity. These three essential leadership elements are the antidote to the cynicism, doubt, and mistrust that all of us are feeling right now.


Authentic leaders work from a foundation of self-awareness and certainty about who they are and what is important to them. They build their authentic leadership on pillars of truthfulness and honesty in relationships. Every deeply authentic leader I have known was also very humble. Don’t confuse humility with easy or soft. Jim Collins taught us that the best leaders, “Level 5 Leaders,” have a good balance of humility and drive.


Transparent leaders build trust. They are open (in appropriate ways) with who they are, about the work they do with others, and what they see in team members. It would be wrong to say that “they hide nothing,” because there are many things that leaders just can’t discuss. However, people who work with transparent leaders are certain about their standing with that leader.


Integrity is the simplest of these three leadership qualities, but it is no less difficult to develop. Integrity in leadership is consistency of words, actions, decisions, and attitudes. The best way to develop and maintain integrity is to have a clear understanding of personal values and to be conscious about living those out daily. The leader who knows what they stand for and then work to stand for it has integrity.

Followers do not merely desire leaders with authenticity, transparency, and integrity. They are desperate for these leaders. People and work cultures marked by cynicism, lack of trust, and doubt have increased conflict, malaise, and fear. These teams and organizations won’t innovate. They won’t excel. They won’t last.

Your job is to lead with authenticity, transparency, and integrity.

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.

Photo by Julbert Ebrahimi. Photo available at Unsplash under CC0 license. Image modified for size and space.

2 thoughts on “Leadership In the Age of Cynicism and Fake News

  1. Robert – I can’t get enough of your blog posts. As a young leader my self in a senior management position, your words are delightful and intriguing. Keep up the good work. As far as family, hope all is well.

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