Leaders, You’re Being Watched (and Recorded)

Posted 04.16.2010

Camera1 OK, I’ll admit it. Sometimes when I’m sitting in my office cranking through e-mail responses, I listen to sports talk radio. Dan Patrick’s show is my favorite. Of course, one of the challenges with hosting a three hour radio show is you have to come up with enough stuff to talk about to fill the time. Some of the topics are more consequential than others.

One of yesterday’s topics was less so. It seems that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was in a bar with a bunch of guys lately, got a little loose with his tongue and, using some colorful language, started dissing on NFL prospect Tim Tebow and his own former head coach, Bill Parcells. We know all of this because one of the guys that Jones was talking to recorded the conversation with the video camera in his smartphone. That guy sent it to a sports blog called Deadspin which “made it OK” for ESPN and all the other sports media channels to pick up the story. Since this is a PG-13 rated blog, I won’t link to Deadspin or any other sites that are running the Jones video. If you’re curious, you can find it on YouTube. The last time I looked, it had about 130,000 hits.

So, what’s my point?  It’s this. As a leader, you are always being watched. That’s what I mean when I write in The Next Level that you need to pick up a big footprint of your role. In an age when most everyone is carrying some sort of digital video camera around in their pocket, you’re not just being watched, there’s a pretty excellent chance that you’re being recorded and may not even know it until you show up on someone’s blog or Facebook page. 

Right about now, you may be thinking, “Heck, I’m not Jerry Jones. No one’s ever going to record and put me on line.”  Really? Think again. Here’s a quick story from a less famous leader about going viral along with a few thoughts about how to deal with the “always on” environment that leaders live in today:

I’ve been conducting interviews on leadership transitions with executives this year for the upcoming second edition of The Next Level. A few months ago, I was talking with one of the senior North American executives for a very well known global company and we got onto the topic of how he has to manage himself in public. Here’s what he said about the challenge of doing that in the digital era:

No, it’s tough for me because I like to have fun. And I’ve just got to be careful when I’m having fun. I can’t do the same things I could maybe ten years ago. I go to parties, and my daughter is in Michigan, and while I’m at the party she knows exactly what I’m doing because there are people there taking photographs. And when they take the photograph, it goes right to her Facebook. And my daughter can see what I’m doing during the party. You’re always on camera. When you think about how these actors and politicians and things they have to go through, and some of them do a great job, but some of them don’t do such a good job. But it comes with the responsibility of authority. And when you represent a company, or you’re an actor representing yourself, you just need to understand that and be sensitive to it.

So, what do you do if you’re a leader who likes to have fun but doesn’t want to end up on YouTube saying things you wish you hadn’t said? Well, if you’re hosting your own party I guess you could do a pat-down of everyone at the door and have them check their digital devices for the duration. Doesn’t seem really practical though, does it? I guess my best advice is to be just boring enough that if someone does record what you’re saying or doing and puts it online there’s not much chance of it going viral. As I’ve written here before, I was a Boy Scout as a kid and still get accused of being a Boy Scout sometimes. As I was thinking about writing this post, I thought of some of the tenets of the Scout law. Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, cheerful and clean are eight of the points of the twelve points. When I think about it, that’s not a bad checklist for leaders that are getting ready to go out for a night on the town. You may not be the life of the party if you follow that list, but you’ll probably still have a good time and likely won’t end up on Facebook or TMZ.

What’s your take? How big a deal is the “always on” environment for leaders? What’s your best advice for avoiding a digital record of things you might regret saying or doing later?