Why political scandals—at a distance—are valuable tools

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I feel as though I live in the most cockamamie country on Earth right now.

I’m from Canada, where the prime minister’s chief aide recently had to resign after giving $ 90,000 to a senator whose travel expenses were being investigated. As if that weren’t enough, we also house Rob Ford, the most dysfunctional mayor since Marion Barry.

Ford, who is mayor of Toronto, the largest city in Canada (fourth-largest in North America) has been linked to a cocaine scandal. We still don’t know for sure whether the purportedly incriminating video actually exists, but Jon Stewart has already done six (hilarious) minutes on it.

Before Americans get all high and mighty about Canadian peccadilloes, may I remind you about Watergate, Iran-Contra, Bill Clinton’s impeachment, and the sexting episode of Anthony Weiner? Politicians do stupid things, and fairly regularly.

Here’s the good news: You can use political imbroglios to your advantage. Think about it—they’re the perfect opportunity to show your boss exactly what he or she should not be doing.

We can all thank Richard Nixon for teaching us that it’s not the illegal activities themselves that undo you; it’s the cover-up. But many corporate leaders—even if they’re not foolish enough to attempt a cover-up—don’t relish the idea of going public or saying they’re sorry. They somehow think that if they can just delay or procrastinate a little longer than the bad news will somehow evaporate, like dew in the midday sun.

Here’s where you can pull out a recent example of the costs of failing to communicate. What happens when Rob Ford takes a full week to hold a press conference about a crack cocaine video? The media excoriates him. The enormous attention this story is receiving will ensure that your boss gets the point. “We don’t want to pull a Rob Ford,” you can say.

And what happens when the Canadian prime minister, a known control freak, claims to have been unaware of a clearly unethical and potentially illegal $ 90,000 payout? The media doesn’t really buy the claim. In other words, plausible deniability fails to exist. 

Now, I understand that it can be dangerous to use political analogies. Bosses with strong feelings for particular parties may be disinclined to accept your comparison if it doesn’t fit with their own political leanings.

So here’s the best news of all: These stories are from another country—close enough to be familiar, yet far enough away for safety.

 

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