Last month Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon and the world’s wealthiest man, went on the offensive with his own personal transparency. He suspected that the National Enquirer was going to “extort and blackmail” him with evidence of his marital infidelity. He knew the publication held incriminating pictures that they were prepared to publish if he didn’t compensate them as demanded.
In many cases, such a powerful person would have found a way to make the problem “go away” without being publicized. Sometimes this works, and those situations never become scandals, but in other cases they backfire horribly – the coverup ends up being worse than the crime.
So instead of trying to make the situation go away quietly, Bezos went on the offensive and used transparency as his platform.
He published a post on Medium.com entitled “No thank you, Mr. Pecker”, an open letter to the leader of AMI, the company that owns the National Enquirer.
The open letter included emails from the Chief Content Officer at AMI and the Deputy General Counsel of AMI, with content that he found to be extortionate.
“These communications cement AMI’s long-earned reputation for weaponizing journalistic privileges, hiding behind important protections, and ignoring the tenets and purpose of true journalism,” Bezos wrote. “Of course I don’t want personal photos published, but I also won’t participate in their well-known practice of blackmail, political favors, political attacks, and corruption. I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out.”
It may seem easy now, but certainly this was no simple decision for Bezos. He had a lot to lose, an understatement from any angle.
Bezos couched it in terms of the greater good: “Any personal embarrassment AMI could cause me takes a back seat because there’s a much more important matter involved here. If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?” Well said.
There are a series of powerful, important lessons to reap from this. First, if you’re going to fail, fail fast. Pull the Band-Aid off quickly and face the truth. Second, transparency and honesty have a direct effect on everything you do, and that matters tremendously. By accepting this reality, no matter how frightful and painful, personally owning up to your problems can help cut them off at the pass.
If anyone had told you six months ago that the infidelity of the world’s richest man would be exposed, you’d have assumed that was a career-ending moment. If you’d been told that he’d own up to it forthright, you might’ve been completely surprised. But that’s what Jeff Bezos did, and despite his personal transgressions, the path of transparency proved to be effective leadership.
The wave of transparency is making an impact far and wide, on people, industries, corporations and government. What problem is it helping to solve? Fear. Overcoming the crippling effects of fear is a key to creating more trustworthy outcomes, whether personal or business in nature. Transparency is at the root, in good times and bad.
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