Fourth Age Communiqué - Leadership for the rest of us

Monday, January 19, 2009

Things we can all learn from Don Imus

There are myriad leadership and diversity lessons about Don Imus that have nothing to do with the politics of the actual incident.

It is a sufficiently divisive topic that people would feel more comfortable shying away from it, rather than wading into potentially treacherous waters. After all, no one wants to be labeled racist or sexist, which is one of the "wisdom of crowds devolving into mob mentality" lessons worth noting.

But the basic principlces of emotional hijackings that are at play in this particular incident, with dramatic consequences, are also present every time we make bad decisions that affect people around us.

Here, then, are a number of imporant learning points about how we respond in the heat of the moment. Were we to break them down chronologically, the lessons to be learned are these:

  • If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all - Abraham Lincoln said, "better to keep one's mouth closed and thought a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt." Put another way, emotional self-control is the first and most critical lesson of all. It's one thing to know you want to say something questionable or inappropriate; it's entirely another to actually let it slip from your mouth.
  • If you make a mistake, admit it - There are few things less tolerable than making excuses or blameshifting. Own your gaffes, your blunders, your inexcusable lapses in judgement. Let your track record and other people defend you.

    And if people cannot defend the context of your work record over time, you may need to ask yourself: am I the problem?
  • If you think you crossed a line, you probably have - People with a strong social intelligence understand, almost intuitively, what impact their words and actions might have on people around them. And they act accordingly.

  • It's your response that dictates the repercussions - Life is 10% what happens to us, and 90% how we respond to it. You can be wrong, and respond properly, and be thought better of by those around you than when you are right and respond poorly.

  • There is an opportunity wrapped up in every blunder - For those who blundered, there is an opportunity to come to terms with what went wrong, to recognize the missteps, and to take corrective action in order to avoid the same pitfalls in the future.

    Strong leaders recognize the teaching moment inherent in every mistake made by people they influence. This underscores the value of debriefing after every project or new initiative: what went well? What should we do differently? What should we not stop doing?

When you make a mistake, even of epic proportions, you still have the opportunity to fail forward. It remains on you to decide, will I learn from this? Will I pick myself up and move on, and try to make amends?

Or will I choose to blame others for my failure?



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