Angela Merkel is unimaginative. Nicolas Sarkozy is an “emperor with no clothes.” The Saudis want the U.S. to “cut off the head of the
snake” (Iran). And the Chinese view North Korea as a “spoiled child.”
These gossipy tidbits come to us from WikiLeaks latest
release of classified government documents. The comments drawn from U.S. State
Department cables were meant to be confidential but are now known around the
world. This unauthorized release of government documents should get leaders
thinking: what if someone “wiki leaked” you?
We would like to think that leaders, be it corporate or
public, are owed a measure of privacy in personal and private communications.
If everything anyone ever said about someone else, be it an employee, a
constituent, a competitor or even a rival, was made public, the number of
feathers ruffled would denude fowl the world over.
Leaders are not owed loyalty; they earn it. And part of the
earning process involves a show of good faith from leader to follower. If the
leader has good intentions, he or she should expect trust, but not assume it.
Politics as conducted in capitals or in corporate board rooms thrives on gossip
and innuendo, some of it perpetrated by insiders seeking to promote or undo one
leader or another, sometimes even people they work for.
Taking the bigger picture, leaders need to keep in mind that
what they say in private might go public. Sad to say this is not good news but
it should make leaders cautious about what they say to whom and when they say
it. So here are some ground rules for executives.
Think before you
speak. Whatever an executive says is magnified by the title he holds.
Positive comments will echo the halls; negative comments will reverberate
inside people. It is okay to be critical but avoid denigrating others. Also,
use facts for arguments, not simple opinions.
Don’t “McChrystal” yourself.
The undoing of General Stanley McChrystal was allowing a reporter to have full
access even during off hours when the general and his staffers were unwinding
over cocktails. Therefore, know who is listening and if you don’t know them,
Keep your back to the
wall. What worked for sheriffs in the Old West may work for executives.
Protect your backside but keep your eyes focused on what’s coming through the
door. Also, tune into the grapevine; it often is the best way to discover what’s
going on within an organization.
Know this, too: if someone wants to take you down, do not
expect him or her to do it with honor. Assume
the worst of people you do not trust. Backstabbers know no bounds.
Will leaders slip up and say something untoward? Of course
because they are leaders subject to all the human frailties that plague us all:
anger, aggression, arrogance, and atavism. The challenge is to keep it in
check, and when something you said in private that was meant to be private gets
out, apologize and get on with life.
Recall what Secretary of
Defense Robert Gates said about WikiLeaks. Nations “deal with the United States
because it’s in their interest … not because they like us, not because they
trust us and not because they believe we can keep secrets.” In short,
self-interest outweighs hurt feelings. If you do your job people will give you
a second chance.
John Baldoni is an
internationally recognized leadership development consultant, executive coach,
author, and speaker. In 2010, Top Leadership Gurus named John one of the world’s
top 25 leadership experts. John’s newest book is 12
Steps to Power Presence: How to Assert Your Authority to Lead. (Amacom 2010). Readers are welcome to visit John’s website,