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A Leader's Mic is Always On
by Tom Goodman
June 11, 2010

Who are you when you think the microphone is off and the cameras have stopped rolling?

When Gordon Brown was campaigning for re-election as British Prime Minister a month ago, he was filmed in conversation with 65-year-old Gillian Duffy.  As Duffy complained about the number of foreign workers taking jobs in the UK, Brown nodded and politely listened.

"Very nice to meet you," he concluded as he climbed into his car.  He heaved an exasperated sigh and complained to an aide about having had to speak to such "a bigoted woman."

Unfortunately for him, he was still wearing a mic from a previous interview with Sky News.  The comments were broadcast for all to hear, hastening the demise of his already failing campaign.

Reflecting on this, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, at the Harvard Business Review, urges leaders to "act as if the audio is always on....  There is no 'off' switch for leaders."  She concludes:

It's a dangerous leadership trap to believe that you can keep anything private that might be embarrassing or worse if revealed....  Leaders are wise to behave with a consciousness of how other people might view what they do -- and the awareness that people probably will view it.  That requires truly authentic leaders whose characters are not mental constructions faked for the job but run deeply in their hearts and souls.  In the age of social media, instant video feeds via cell phones, and hidden surveillance cameras, this advice about authenticity increasingly applies to everyone who aspires to leadership.

Moss Kanter wrote this advice to business leaders.  How much more should church leaders heed the warning:  We need to be "truly authentic leaders whose characters are not mental constructions faked for the job but run deeply in their hearts and souls."

A dictionary may separate "Competence" from "Character" for the purposes of definition.  In the world of leadership, though, the concepts are inseparable.


I am grateful to a post at David Murray's weblog for pointing me to the Rosabeth Moss Kanter article.

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