What Would Your Own “Nixon Tapes” Reveal?

In December 2010, the secretly-recorded audiotapes of US President Richard M. Nixon were in the news again. Additional recordings (another 265 hours worth) were released earlier this month which found Nixon making disparaging remarks about ethical groups, foreign powers, and worse.

Ignoring the ethics of recording conversations of any number of White House staff, congress members, foreign dignitaries, etc. without their knowledge or permission, I wonder how our workplace behaviors would stand up to such scrutiny.

Imagine your every conversation, your every word, recorded and immediately posted on the web for your employees, family, and friends to hear. Would your behavior, your treatment of others, your tone, etc. – recorded 24/7 – reveal that you:

  1. Value and trust others?
  2. Respect others’ contributions and opinions?
  3. Expect the best from others?
  4. Give others the benefit of the doubt?

. . . or, might those recordings reveal that you sometimes stray into unfair judgment, gossip, humor at others’ expense . . . or worse?

Not a Proud Moment

An example might illustrate the “unintended” impact of our behavior. Years ago, in one of my first ever “supervising others” roles, I found that I managed some staff easily, others took a bit of effort, and a few were a complete mystery. I basically was learning “on the job” how to be a good manager.

One of my “complete mystery” staff members was a terrific contributor. Let’s call her Kelly. Her skills were exceptional and her interactions with customers were appropriate and pleasant. However, Kelly’s interactions with her staff peers and her bosses were driven by biting sarcasm, rolling of eyes at others’ comments or ideas, etc. I tried a number of approaches to raise the issue and close this gap, but Kelly never listened nor did she agree that there was any problem with her behavior.

Kelly also worked in another department, managed by a colleague. He had the same experience with her attitude and was equally frustrated.

One important complication – Kelly was the daughter of one of our board members. That dynamic caused me hours of consternation, trying to figure out what to do with my “mystery” and to do so without disappointing a key board member at the same time. I was exhausted.

The Conversation

I decided to take the bull by the horns. My colleague and I set up a meeting with Kelly to discuss our concerns. I explained the purpose of the meeting by boldly stating, “Kelly, your performance is great, but you have a %^$@% attitude.”

Silence followed. A long silence. My use of that curse word shocked her – and she barely said a word through the 10-minute meeting. I explained the inappropriate behaviors we had observed and asked her to change those behaviors ASAP. She agreed and left.

Later that evening I got a call from my boss . . . who had heard from Kelly’s dad, our board member. My boss expressed his frustration with my approach and my language. He told me in no uncertain terms that I was in the wrong, and that I owed Kelly and her Dad an apology. I called them within minutes and did just that.

My good intentions didn’t help at all. I blew it, big time – and Kelly’s and my relationship never improved. If (hypothetically) I knew I was being tape recorded, I would have never used that kind of language.

Act as If Your Every Word was Being Broadcast

Ultimately, our leadership responsibility is to create a caring, supportive work environment where goals are accomplished by passionate employees. Your influencing efforts – your words, actions, tone, and attitude – either build or erode trust and respect.


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  • We all say and do stupid, thoughless things at some point in our lives. The way to handle it isjust as you did, call immediately and apologize. Whether that’s met with welcome or not doesn’t matter, as long as we do what we can to make the matter right. Some people seem to live to be offended.

    I’d like to think my “Nixon Tapes” wouldn’t reveal anything too terrible. I go out of my way to make sure people loved, accepted and appreciated, but I’m sure I unknowingly tick somebody off!

    • So true, Kathy – the prompt apology is the right path! And, we can only make the apology – others may or may not forgive immediately (or at all!).

      Cheers!

      C.

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