thinking_manKatharine Graham is the CEO of The Washington Post Company and publisher of its flagship Washington Post newspaper. She is meeting over lunch—eggs benedict was the entrée—with two key team members to discuss the story on potential mischief and illegal behavior by President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign several months before. There was a suspicious break-in at the Watergate Hotel, campaign headquarters of the Democratic Party. The Washington Post is one of the few media organizations covering the story.

Things are going badly for Graham and the Washington Post Company: the story has not gained any national attention, the newspaper’s pursuit of the truth has not yielded any new information, the Nixon Administration is increasingly popular, and the Washington Post is increasingly hated. Its stock price has fallen by 50%, and its attempt to get federal licenses for four TV stations—in 1973, the hottest communications medium of the future—is going nowhere.

At the lunch, Graham asks reporter Bob Woodward, “Is it all going to come out?” She is referring, of course, to the newspaper’s investigation of the Nixon re-election campaign.

Woodward looks back at her.
(in the photo Woodward is on the far right and Graham in the center; Woodward’s collaborating reporter Carl Bernstein is on the left, though he was not in the lunch meeting; taken in 1973)



If you’re Graham, what kind of answer do you expect to hear? What should one of your key team members be able to tell you in reply? What type of answer would you find unacceptable? Does it change this situation’s dynamic of leader-asking-follower if the leader is a woman and the follower a man?

Email me your thoughts on what you think Graham as a leader should do. After you’ve done so, look below at the nature of other people’s responses. Then, glide on over to another spot on my website, The Commonplace Book in the “My Writings” section. I’ve written about what Graham did and what happened next. It’s real-world in a way you can’t possibly imagine. Thanks much for your effort. All the best, Dan

Nicole: “All she can expect is the truth. She is totally dependent on her team at this point. I cannot imagine if I’m her having all of what I’m working for come down to the efforts of just one or two or three people. She must have had her heart in her throat. And yes, it absolutely makes a difference if it’s a woman asking. Might not be politically correct to say this, but it does make a difference.”

Lawrence: “If you don’t know the answer then you better not be thinking about asking. I’ll bet if the Post’s stockholders knew that she didn’t know, they would be angry. I agree with Nicole, it would be different because maybe the stockholders would have moved faster to kick her out of her position. They might have given a man more leeway. I’ll be interested to see what really happened. I’ll check out the other section you mentioned.”