Transparency: David Patterson’s Smart Move
David Patterson, New York’s new governor will never need to stand, ashen-faced, and admit that he cheated on his wife–as his predecessor, Elliot Spitzer did.
Why? Because, knowing that skeleton was in his closet, Patterson pre-empted it with an act of transparency. He openly admitted, at a time, place, and manner of his own choosing–actually on the very day he was sworn in as governor–hat he and his wife had both had affairs during a difficult time in their relationship. He maintained control of the discourse, and the admission can never be used as a weapon to destroy him, as it would very much do if he’d been suddenly, unexpectedly, “outed.” As Spitzer found out very quickly.
For all we know, the Pattersons may have even had an agreement that theirs was an open relationship–in which case, the word “cheating” wouldn’t even apply. It’s not cheating if you have permission from the cheatee.
Transparency is a good strategy whenever there’s an ethics issue. It means you can’t be blackmailed. It means you minimize the hurt to other people. And you stay in control of the situation.
Almost four years ago, I wrote about a utility company that handled a gas explosion with rare good sense. Like Johnson & Johnson’s handling of the Tylenol poisoning scare years earlier, this company was both transparent and extremely customer-centric, and thus enhanced rather than destroyed its reputation.
Gay and lesbian activists have understood this for almost 40 years, since the 1969 Stonewall riots. The closest thing to a rational reason for keeping gays out of sensitive jobs (say, those that expose the employee to highly sensitive information) is the fear of blackmail. But when the gay employee is already out of the closet, that weapon fizzles away.
I’d say that transparency, combined with Nelson Mandela-style reconciliation, creates powerful momentum in favor of the person making the confession, whether in business or politics. Plus, as the Catholics with their confession ritual have understood for centuries, there’s tremendous personal release in not bottling up secrets.