I felt bad for Tim Armstrong, the CEO of America Online when the press exploded over his public firing of an employee. It’s easy for any manager to have a temporary lapse of judgment and let his emotions get the best of him. Emotions can cause any of us to say or do something that we might later regret. In another time, the firing of an employee during an internal conference call would never have made national news. In our time, however, this incident is a reminder of the power and peril of social media.
With digital media, everyone is a journalist now. With social media, everyone now has a global distribution platform through which they can get out their message. To his credit, Tim Armstrong did apologize for the manner in which he fired his employee. The damage was done however and this incident will remain a teachable moment in management and leadership circles.
So, what critical leadership lesson can managers learn from Tim’s unfortunate lapse in judgment? The lesson is a well known leadership principle for employee performance management: praise in public, correct in private. Employees do not respond well to public humiliation. In fact, while employees have always found ways to get even with their bosses, the AOL firing shows how easy it is to do so in these times. A leaked audio recording made its way onto a media blog where it then spread to major media sources.
So, the next time you feel your temperature rising, remember that you are just one click away from becoming an unwanted YouTube viral video case study of how a manager should not act. When you have to take the tough actions that your role requires, don’t forget the principle, praise in public, correct in private. Avoid public humiliation. It usually backfires!