Originally published in Forbes
We’ve all heard stories of CEOs and senior managers doing things that could sink the stock price or cause huge disruptions in business. The higher and faster you rise, the harder you fall. And people will enjoy watching it. Just ask United Airlines or Wells Fargo.
When going about your business or cutting loose with your team, it pays to stop and think hard about what you’re doing. And what they’re doing. Particularly when you’re wearing the hat of the leader.
Being out with frat bothers or sorority sisters and talking trash is much different than breaking bread with employees.
I say this not from a pulpit, but from experience controlling my expletives. It is not just the right thing to master your behavior. It’s the smart thing to do for your business.
Whispers of drama create huge business disruptions
Just today Buzzfeed did a provocative piece about threats made to a lawyer representing disgruntled investors in a bankruptcy proceeding for a Trump casino in 2009. I guess this is new news.
According to the piece, threatening calls were made from a phone booth close to where Trump was appearing on The Late Show With David Letterman. The piece doesn’t directly say Donald Trump made the call. They do say the caller had ‘a heavy New York accent.’
The seed is planted.
Could it have been Trump himself, or as the article later suggests, his bodyguard that made the call? I don’t for a minute believe it was Trump because he would have been smart enough to feign a Southern accent.
It really doesn’t matter though because as Sally Albright tells Harry Burns in When Harry Met Sally, ‘You can’t take it back. It’s already out there.’
The problem is not who made the call. The problem is that someone felt they could get away with making threats to an attorney representing the ‘opposition.’ The problem is bad judgment. And bad judgment when acted upon gives stories like this tremendous traction.
Many little things become big things
What in one moment seems like a frustrated comment or an inconsiderate gesture becomes in the next moment an all out culture crisis. And if for a minute you don’t think culture is everything these days, the 1.92 billion Google search results for culture will tell you different.
Just today the CEO of Uber, Travis Kalanick, had to cancel his Code Conference address because of issues related to the management and culture at his company.
The story on Recode about the growing swell of problems sounded bad.
Further context around the issue only made the situation worse. Kalanick is the first person in 15 years to cancel on the Code Conference because he is focused on the delay in ‘the report from former Attorney General Eric Holder on Uber’s culture and management problems.’ Most people will stop reading there.
May we all never be on pins and needles awaiting a former Attorney General’s judgment on our organizational flaws. No organization is immune, but once there is blood in the water, the sharks aren’t going away.
When life gives you lemons, or you raised bitter ones on your own, make lemonade
CEOs, leaders, managers and the crazy teams that run American business are humans. Humans that sometimes make mistakes big enough to damage corporate reputation and brand value.
What’s impressive is when we learn from mistakes, live through the consequences and set an example.
I am amazed at what Martha Stewart was able to do—after going to jail. She did her time. She then used the horror and the humiliation of it to learn new lessons.
And damned if she didn’t come out, take back leadership in her company and manage to sell it for $353 Million. OK, it wasn’t worth the $2 Billion it once was, but she covered her nut, maintained her sense of humor, and continues to grow her brand and example.
Tomorrow is another day
Entrepreneurs are risk takers. Sometimes we’re unpleasant. Sometimes we take our eye off the ball. Sometimes we ignore how others perceive us because we’re just too busy.
The secret to leadership is recognizing that truth before it overtakes your organization, your culture, your financials and your press coverage. The good name of your company is one of your number one jobs.
The more conscious you are of the perceptions and sensitivities of your employees and customers—before you do something stupid on camera, on a hot mic, or in a phone booth on West 54th Street—the better off you’ll be.
As Maya Angelou said, ‘When you know better you do better.’
How are you and your senior leaders doing?