A LEADER needs to be careful about the quality of the information he chooses to consume. News is like fast food, it is addictive and damages your mental and emotional well-being. Rolf Donelli, in his book: Towards a Healthy News Diet, said, ‘‘The fortunate among us have recognized the hazards of living with an over abundance of food and have started to shift our diets. But most of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what sugar is to the body.”
The relentless stream of dispatches and poor quality information is especially damaging to leaders who have to take decisions based on information at hand. However, success is usually the result of making smart decisions. Indeed, determination is the most important quality in a leader. If leaders are superhuman in any way, it was in their perseverance in the pursuit of truth. As the saying goes ‘‘garbage in garbage out.” Our obsession with following mainstream media has many negative consequences for leaders. News that is overly negative distorts reality.
‘‘Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading or listening to the news is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock. News is reported to trigger your emotions and capture your attention. Newsmen are well known for writing sensational stories with the aim of selling more advertising pages and driving copy sales. As journalists will tell you, ‘‘If it bleeds, it leads” – meaning the papers sell more with rampaging headlines.
The media are, for the most part, harbingers of bad news, but this isn’t entirely the media’s fault. Bad news gets higher rating and sells more papers than good news. The purpose of dispatches are departing from educating or informing, rather it is to evoke an emotional response, such as shock, fear and anxiety. You can observe this in that the majority of the news being reported negatively involves conflict, terrorism, protest, crime, tragedy or gossip. Research shows that those exposed to mainstream news are more likely o feel their neighbourhoods are unsafe, believe crimes are sky rocketing, they overestimate the odds of their becoming victims and consider the world to be a dangerous and irredeemable place.
Watching or hearing the news is the worst ways to spend your time. In fact, reading the news is worse rather reading for self-improvement. The news does not make you smarter, wiser or more knowledgeable. The news as rendered in Nigeria, distorts your views of reality. Sadly, distorted reality places leaders at risk of making bad decisions. What with the labour leaders asking for a new minimum wage? Whereas economists aver that minimum wages promote the empowerment of working class over the self-employed. Economists also insist minimum wages promote unemployment. Unfortunately, the weary leader, oblivious of the truth may want to curry the favour of organized labour by acceding to their demands. That is how bad news exacerbates inequality in the polity.
The news shapes and directs your attention. The consumption of mainstream news distracts you from leading with purpose. It is the news that sets your agenda and captures your attention. When you spend time with news headlines, you are allowing others to decide the issues of the day. You are letting others decide what is important and what problems should occupy your attention. When this happens you have effectively surrendered your leadership to the enemy.
Moreover, news makes us passive. One of the most damaging aspects of listening to the news is the barrage of the negatively and pessimism. We underestimate the adverse effects of negative and pessimistic news content has on our emotional health. A constant stream of negative news on problems outside of our control makes us passive. After a while, we look for scapegoats. Before long we find ourselves behaving as victims with a fatalistic outlook on life.
Here are some ways to tame your obsession with rumour, yellow journalism and scathing opinion. One, make a deliberate choice of what information you consume. In a lecture titled ‘‘Information is food,” by the bestselling author, J.P. Rangaswami, he talked about how the consumption of information is similar to eating food. He made the point that consuming news is like eating McDonalds for 31 days. As leaders we need to become a lot more discerning about the quality of information we consume. The world does not need leaders who mindlessly digest negative news, polarizing opinion and inaccurate forecasts. We need leaders who are more discerning to the quality of information they consume.
Successful leaders are not persuaded by the superficial analysis of world events. Instead they choose to read content which deals with the nuances of leading in an increasingly complex world of terror. These leaders seek out quality, thought-provoking information. Content that sparks creative solutions to the problems of the day. Content needed are those that provokes deep reflection and inspires action. Change begins from a shift in thinking and focus. Challenge yourself by making more conscious choices about the type of information you consume.