Leadership at the Crossroads Part 3: Courage to Speak Boldly When it Counts.

Are you thinking about deleting your Facebook account in the wake of revelations about how your personal data may have been misused?

I’m not. 

I’ll be honest. Social media is my water cooler. It came of age about the time I traded a position where I interacted face to face with hundreds of people daily to one where I worked largely alone. The new media (as it was called then) was an exciting way to tell the world about the books I was writing while keeping me in touch with far-flung family and friends.

Sure, it’s a time suck filled with inane cat pictures. Still, how many meaningful photos of Passover gatherings and Easter celebrations filled our feeds last weekend while filling the miles and time that separate us from loved ones? It’s a wonderful thing and I’m sticking with it. But despite my rosy view, there is clearly trouble in paradise. Trouble of the sort that creates a leadership crossroads like those I wrote about here and here.

Little did I realize a decade ago that this remarkable technology’s connective tissue with such benign purpose would come with such a potential for harm.

I suspect that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, one of the company’s founders, was equally naive about it. Yet now he is facing a crossroads of classic proportions.

Because the solution to a problem always changes the problem. Businesses are built on solutions to human problems that in turn bring new problems leaders must grapple with.

The human need to communicate is only slightly less urgent on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs than food. It is, in fact, food for the soul. Those likes, shares, and comments connect us. Each one gives a little pop of happy hormones. So we sometimes fall for stupid personality quizzes while insanely smart algorithms tempt us to click on products that uncannily track our heart’s desires.

The intensely personal nature of our relationship with Facebook magnified the shocking news about how much of our privacy has been sold away and possibly even used to game the 2016 presidential election.

The controversy threatened to unseat this social media giant.  And we waited for four days to hear just how Zuckerberg would not just explain the lapse that allowed Cambridge Analytica to lift so much information and what damage that might have done, but also exactly what Facebook would do to rectify the sense of betrayal that threatened consumer confidence and the company’s value.

Leadership requires the courage to take risks—and the responsibility not only to take the accolades but to squarely own and decisively fix the mistakes.

Davia Temin, a crisis communications specialist writes in Forbes about what Zuckerberg should have done, should have said.  After all, as she observes, “Facebook has been larger than life in our worlds for over a decade. We have trusted it enough to bring it into our homes and bedrooms, our commutes and workplaces, our friendships and our families until it has almost reached ubiquity. So Facebook’s responses to such a larger-than-life issue as this — the possible dissolution of our sovereign decision-making process — must be bigger than life, too. And far, far better.”

Her advice is that he should have responded more quickly, he should have apologized with more force and taken the responsibility on more personally; he should have not expressed this in such a legalistic way.

Temin is right. But I would add this critical point: he should have owned and articulated higher moral values, including righteous indignation at a company that would violate basic honesty and use underhanded tactics for political gain by grossly violating the social contract, lying, stealing, misleading. He should lash out at the common enemy and don the cape of Facebook’s superpower to unite rather than divide humanity.

I’ve led organizations for decades and I can tell you this:  good leadership is intentional. As Daniel Whalen observes in The Startup:  “Leadership isn’t always pretty. In fact, it’s often quite the opposite. No matter if someone is a decade into their leadership role or a day, they’re equally as susceptible to costly mistakes and failures.”

That being true, you might as well do what you know is the right thing when faced with a leadership crossroads that has moral dimensions like this one.

What are your thoughts? I’m truly interested in what you would do if faced by such a crossroads.

xxxx

Leadership is not for the faint-hearted but it is also not just for the select few.

In a rare moment of bipartisan agreement this week, every woman in the U. S. Senate signed this letter.

Join me live for our Virtual Happy Hour on April 11th at 6:30 PM we’ll be talking about how we get to that day when women represent 50% of the leadership ranks in every sector:  business, government, nonprofit.  You’ll hear from Tiffany Shlain, whose documentary film “50/50” examines the state of women’s leadership— and what it will take to turn the corner.  You’ll also meet Kathy Coover, co-founder of Isagenix,  whose own path to leadership began by stepping into a role not generally dominated by women, sales, and carving a path for herself that now puts her at the top of her own firm and a company with near 50/50 representation.  Sign up here and check back for additional information, additional guests and how to join us by Zoom where you can ask your questions and join the lively conversation focused on solutions.

P.S. In the top photo that’s Take The Lead Leadership Ambassador Felicia Davis with me.  In a special event last week we brought the two 50 Women Can Change The World in Nonprofit graduating classes together.

GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The LeadPeople has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”

As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.

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