3 Tactics to Fight Leadership Indiscretions

3 Tactics to Fight Leadership Indiscretions

Leaders are reasonably intelligent people; aware of the consequences of our actions.  They are trained on the difference between right and wrong and bombarded by examples of those who broke the law. Every day we see the faces of sobbing men and women, distraught after their indiscretions are made public. People let us down all the time. We let ourselves down. Leaders are human and may give in to the temptations that whisper to us in a powerful siren song of seduction. When they make egregious errors in judgment, people are disappointed and the effects can be catastrophic. How can leaders and the rest of us mere mortals avoid getting into these predicaments?

Business teaches us to be strategic thinkers. There is a format for planning the promotion of a product or service. A vision of the future leads people to embrace the possibilities of the successful achievement of a goal. The market is analyzed along with the competition and barriers to entry for each product. We are taught to assess our strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities.

We seldom critically analyze the forces that could personally derail our character and reputation. In business we know that we are only as strong as our weakest link. But everyone is only as strong as their weakest character trait. Perform a joint analysis as we unpack this topic. What are leadership and your weaknesses? Which values are easily prone to an indiscretion?

Control circumstances

We should conduct a self assessment of our morality. This will point to the thoughts we have that could, if acted upon, cause disgrace, disapproval and embarrassment. We could combat those thoughts by controlling the circumstances where this could become a reality.  I knew a person who said he was not the most moral thinking person in the world, but as long as he could control his environment, he would be alright.  He meant he would not put himself in a position to be tempted. He would not place himself with a woman who could lead to a compromise in his morality. He would not have to worry whether he was strong enough to resist if he never placed himself in a compromising position. I read where evangelist Billy Graham was adamant about never being in a room unless there were other people present. Dinners in a business setting with members of the opposite sex are seen as potential hazard unless they are out in the open, visible by other people.

Controlling circumstances also addressed the content of conversations. Leaders have made off color remarks and told jokes to someone whom they felt were like-minded. The other person even added to the jokes or told their own. However, when the person became a performance problem and disciplinary action was enforced they brought up the inappropriate jokes to lash back at their manager. Leaders could benefit from controlling the circumstances and the content of their conversations to resist indiscretions.

Predicting Headlines

Leaders can use their strategic insight to anticipate negative publicity. I find it helpful to imagine the headline that would be written around an alleged indiscretion. Whatever roles you occupy at work or in the community would be linked in the headlines. You should follow this with an interview of the people affected by the headline; the more vivid the imagery the better. Sense the pain and see the tears, as you think of those shamed by your actions. You can tally the economic consequences of your potential disclosure. Calculate the financial losses and divide them by the hours spent on your escapades to arrive at an hourly rate. These kinds of mind games can keep you in check if you are swayed by logic, but power can make you feel invincible.

If you examine headlines you will notice that a person is more newsworthy if they can be connected to something. A title at a company, an occupation or affiliation to an organization or association makes the headline more captivating. Early management training at Stuart Pharmaceutical covered the fact that we were representatives of the company 24 hours a day. If we performed an unlawful act the fact that we were employees of the company would end up in the headline and add spice to the story.

Leaders who visualize negative headlines may use this technique to keep themselves in check and on the right moral track. If not it should make them aware of the total impact and the magnitude and amount of collateral damage.

Apology letters in advance

Another deterrent to indiscretions would be writing an apology letter in advance.  “I apologize for my errors in judgment. I realize that I disgraced my office or family and take full responsibility for my actions. They did not deserve this violation of their trust. I hope they can find it in their hearts to forgive me. I am deeply sorry.”

The translation of their contrition for most lay people is, “I realized the risk involved when I made the mistake. I was arrogant. I thought I could outsmart everyone. I did not think I would be discovered. And finally, I am sorry I got caught.”

What would happen if a leader mentally wrote an apology letter before they performed a bad deed? Suppose you consider your comments and the precise words you would use. Who would you apologize to and what would you say? When they cried or became angry, how would you address their emotional outbursts? What would be the consequences you would suffer and how do they compare to the emotions satisfied by the event?

If we as leaders would summon the symptoms of our disgrace, would this prevent us from acting foolishly? Realizing that we disappointed those who had faith in us or looked up to us, how would we react to their thoughts of betrayal?

Leaders are aware of the consequences of their actions. However, they may become immersed in arrogance that is fueled by a Houdini Effect. They feel they have an amazing ability to escape if cornered, therefore able to wiggle their way out of any negative situation. They may even go as far as to set up escape routes to evade discovery and cover their tracks if someone questions them. Their actions are premeditated and pernicious. I read an article recently that postulated that we have a difficult time imagining bad things happening to us. This may explain why reasonable people are not dissuaded by the consequences of their potential actions. We also may feel we are smarter than others and may never get caught. The contrite confessions aired in the media are from people who felt the same way. No one in their right minds would want to lose everything for a few moments of pleasure of any sorts. Yet ever minute someone gives in to temptation and an indiscretion is born.

Leaders receive religious training and family upbringing to form our moral foundation.  These values can be augmented by the strategic planning, mind games, mental scenarios that work in achieving our business objectives and reputation. Our dual track of discussing leaders and thinking about our personal positions should help us apply the three tactics. The corollary methods should also help us maintain a positive image and minimize the onset of indiscretions.

Copyright © 2011 Orlando Ceaser

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