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Big Problem? No Problem. Try Transparency

Lessons learned from Russia


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Not so long ago, Russia had an explosion at a missile testing site. All good, says Vladimir Putin. 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.)

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 also 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 Putin). 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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Todd Ordal

Todd Ordal is president of Applied Strategy®. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Todd is the author of Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be (Morgan James Publishing, 2016). Connect with Todd on LinkedIn, Twitter, call 303-527-0417 or email todd@toddordal.com.

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