The New York Times Test, Goldman Sachs and Greg Smith

Sometime ago, I was facilitating a session with a group of managers on decision making, ethics, and leadership credibility. This was an interesting engagement that I really enjoyed as this group of professionals had strong opinions and they were not shy about expressing them. Like any discussion that involves ethics and leadership credibility, I had to work with this management team on not falling into the trap of labeling personality style differences as unethical behavior. We ended in a good place as we discussed various models and tools for more effective outcomes in these areas.

I could not have imagined that one of the tools that I asked this group of managers to use in assessing their decision making and organizational behavior in the future — the New York Times Test — would be validated in such a public way.

Specifically, the advice I gave these managers about making good ethical decisions came full circle with the resignation of Greg Smith who was then a senior manager at Goldman Sachs. Greg published an op-ed to the world in the New York Times in which he criticized the top leadership of the company. At the time, the article created a lot of negative press for the company.

How comfortable would you feel if your leadership actions were discussed in detail on the front page of the New York Times? If this possibility concerns you, then maybe you should do something different. Click To Tweet

What is the New York Times Test?

Organizational development consultants and trainers have used The New York Times Test for years as a learning aid on a variety of leadership and management topics.  It is helpful for management actions ranging from public relations to operational decision making.

The New York Times Test basically tells managers to ask themselves how they would feel if the actions  they are about to take in their organization (decisions, communication, etc.) were described in detail on the front page of the New York Times. This test challenges managers and senior leaders to assess their own behavior against an expanded criteria that goes beyond organizational expediency and profitability to also include public scrutiny.

The New York Times Test is a high-level test that serves as a warning indicator.

In my work, I describe it as a view of the environment at a high altitude level. I like to use the analogy of a pilot preparing a 747 for a routine landing.

If the pilot tells everyone to get ready for a routine landing and the plane is flying over the Rockies or over the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the passengers will be concerned. Their high-level assessment tells them the environment is not hospitable for a safe landing and it is wise to look for an alternative.

As I explain to managers, if the thought of having their actions written up on the front page of the New York Times concerns them in a given situation, then they should take some time to reassess how they proceed.  At a first glance, the New York Times Test is telling them that there are some cautionary red-flag warnings with their approach.

If you are not using the New York Times Test as one of your tools for decision making and communication in your current management and leadership capacity, I’d encourage you to add it to your management toolbox. Many leaders can improve their effectiveness and maintain their credibility by using this test.

A quick test on the ethics of your leadership actions is the New York Times Test. Does the thought of your actions appearing on the front page of the New York Times terrify you? If so, your business just failed the New York Times Test. Click To Tweet
Written by Robert Tanner | Copyrighted Material | All Rights Reserved Worldwide

This article is accurate to the best of the author’s knowledge.
Content is for informational or educational purposes only and does not substitute for professional advice in business, management, legal, or human resource matters.

Robert Tanner, MBA

Welcome to my leadership blog. I'm the Founder & Principal Consultant of Business Consulting Solutions LLC, a certified practitioner of psychometric assessments, and a former Adjunct Professor of Management. As a leadership professional, I bring 20+ years of real world experience at all levels of management.

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