Authentic Leadership: The World Needs A Skeptic, Not A Cynic

What’s the difference between a skeptic and a cynic? Here’s my take: A skeptic (according to Encarta® World English Dictionary) is “somebody who questions the validity or truth of things that most people accept.” Skeptics challenge the status quo. Skeptics are necessary for the growth and development of an organization, a culture, and a community. Perhaps the growth of life itself depends on the spirit of a good skeptic. While skeptics appear negative, they have a motive to build. They have goodwill, and are solution-based. Their intent is to serve, to contribute, to make better and stronger by telling the truth. Some are called agitators. We need agitators – as long as its done with the greater good in mind.

Cynics are quite different. While cynics also challenge the status quo, their motive is self-interest. They are not in the game for the greater good. Unlike skeptics, cynics have no cause, and without a cause you are a poacher.

In my discussion with groups of leaders about the difference between skeptics and cynics, the role of complaint inevitably surfaces. Is complaining skepticism or cynicism? It depends on your motive. To complain is  to express dissatisfaction, pain, uneasiness, censure, resentment, or grief. While complaining inevitably, at least initially, comes across as negative, if your motive is to serve and build, complaining can be useful. Be careful that you don’t judge and silence complainers in haste. Sometimes they are your best teachers and your greatest allies. Listening to and learning from those raising complaints about what is not working can bring about positive change.  Judging complainers outright labels the leaders – the change makers – within your organization who have spoken up, to become silent lest they be labeled as such. Complaints can promote change. Complaints can be productive  when they are heard and acknowledged and when the complaint is coming from a self-responsible mindset.

What’s your take on the difference between a skeptic and a cynic?