Lillian Cunningham on honest leadership and Andrew Mason’s farewell

There’s more to authenticity than being yourself — honesty is a refreshing part of being present in an authentic way, even during your farewell!

Lillian Cunningham, the Washington Post’s “On Leadership” Blog editor, had this to say about Andrew Mason’s farewell memo when he was fired from Google last month:

“Honesty and authenticity are so profoundly lacking in today’s leaders that it really is a thrill when a frank memo appears, like the one that freshly ousted Groupon CEO Andrew Mason penned…

Remember Carol Bartz’s blunt note to Yahoo employees? (“I am very sad to tell you that I’ve just been fired over the phone by Yahoo’s Chairman of the Board.”)

Following another disappointing quarter, online bargain site ousted its co-founder and CEO, Andrew Mason.

It’s a rare and decadent pleasure — with a dollop of schadenfreude on top, of course — to get a taste of the sourness inside big businesses. And it’s a reminder that we are, in fact, all human. That there really is a limit to what we’re willing to take, and to what we’re willing to sugarcoat.

According to research by leadership experts Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, honesty is the most important attribute Americans look for in their leaders. It comes before “forward-looking,” “inspiring” and even “competent.” What a shame that it so often takes a dramatic exit for those in power, and for all of us, to say what needed to be said all along.” Read more… (Mason’s full letter is quoted in her blog.)

Perhaps the most laudable paragraph in his farewell memo was this one: “You are doing amazing things at Groupon, and you deserve the outside world to give you a second chance. I’m getting in the way of that. A fresh CEO earns you that chance. The board is aligned behind the strategy we’ve shared over the last few months, and I’ve never seen you working together more effectively as a global company – it’s time to give Groupon a relief valve from the public noise.

Very clear. Very calm. Very honest.

One of the folks who responded in the comments section said, “Very inspirational leader. I would love to work for him.” Now that’s a vote of confidence, and what a strange and wonderful time to get that vote — when Mason acknowledges his failure.

So does this prove honesty is the best policy? I think so – when it’s done well, thoughtfully and with clarity and purpose. And maybe that’s where skill meets authenticity.

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