Big Problem? No Problem! Do the Putty!

Not so long ago, Russia had an explosion at a missile testing site. All good, says Vlad the Putty. No problem. Then, mysteriously, four nuclear monitoring sites went silent.

“Transparency” and “Russian government” are two terms rarely used in the same sentence unless it also has the words “no, nyet or are you kidding?” Dictatorships have that advantage. They do and say what they want with few repercussions, at least in the short term. (No worries, I’m not about to dive into American politics …)

Wells Fargo also had a nuclear event and had about as much transparency as Putty’s Russia regarding what really happened — until the you-know-what hit the fan. There are many examples of this, perhaps most fascinating was Elizabeth Holmes at Theranos. (If you haven’t read “Bad Blood,” pick it up. Fascinating!)

Perhaps Holmes and Bernie Madoff started out with good intentions, but darn, things went wrong, didn’t they! Contrast that with Jim Mattis, former Secretary of Defense and Marine four-star general. He says every time he screwed up (and fessed up), he got promoted. (His book, “Call Sign Chaos” is worth a read.)

Humility, transparency and vulnerability are three overlapping concepts that have only recently in the history of management been accepted as good leadership characteristics. Balancing those with confidence, charisma and forcefulness to find a “good” leader isn’t always easy. But you can enhance all these characteristics (unless you’re Putty). Transparency must start early, from my perspective as a CEO coach, or you end up thinking about how to turn off the monitoring mechanisms when things go wrong.

Whether business leaders or politicians, the ones who get into really deep doo-doo are the ones who screw up and cover up! Better to take your lumps, learn, maybe get your ass kicked or even get fired. Once you become adept at covering up and bullshitting, you’re too far gone and deserve what you get. If not in this world, then the next.

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