To be honest, giving leaders our compassion is not something I have thought much about. One look at today’s headlines makes it super easy to vilify big corporate CEOs and big government politicians.
Some words, however, from digital thought-leader Kevin Kelly, made me pause. During a podcast he talked about how the web companies like Facebook and Google have recently become so big and powerful they sometimes function as a government entity. They do not just have users, they have citizens. They do not just aggregate the news feed, their algorithms filter and so skew the information we receive. Kevin notes that this is new territory. No company CEO has ever had to address these issues before. Because this is entirely new territory, we can not expect that leaders will have all the right answers. So we should have compassion for them, their actions, and their decisions regarding these sorts of issues.
In reality, any misstep, any experiment gone wrong, any word prematurely spoken and people tend to leap to conclusions. With 20/20 hindsight, they are baffled at the CEOs decisions.
I wonder what Facebook and Google and all the others would be like if we had more compassion for the CEOs of these companies. What if, when they make a reasonable misstep, instead of coming at them brandishing pitchforks we instead have a conversation with a different tone. “Hey Apple, thanks for trying to improve Podcasts with that latest update. But, the improvement you tried to make actually makes it harder for me to get to my favorite podcasts. Here, let me show you how…”
Vilifying leaders does not end with the giant corporate entities. It happens in our associations too. Association CEOs can become a target and so can board members.
Think about what is happening to associations today. Things are happening right now that have never happened in the past and change is moving at unimaginable speeds. Technology is changing, competition is changing, attention is changing. We are in a foreign landscape. No doubt, association leaders are going to make bad decisions. Bad decisions are actually a good thing. It is a signal that means they are trying. They are experimenting. They want to get better.
When association leaders get shot down for each and every mistake, there is a real danger that they will stop trying. And when they stop trying, we all lose.