Challenge Your Thinking III – What Really Happened Next

Bob Woodward said that Graham seemed nervous when she asked him if everything about the Watergate Hotel break-in story would come out, would they get the full story and be able to run it in the newspaper. Everything was riding on it–the Post’s stock price, reputation, and viability as an organization.

The question hung in the air as the eggs benedict began to chill.

Woodward answered, “It may never come out.”

Graham’s expression shifted from nervousness to what Woodward thought was one of depression.

Graham responded, “Never? Don’t tell me never.”

A few minutes passed. Perhaps as a way to shift the topic in some other direction, Woodward next told Graham that he still had not shared the name of his secret source of inside information from the Nixon Administration.

Graham took a slightly teasing tone. “Tell me,” she said. Woodward’s face stiffened, his eyes opened widely and stared straight ahead. Graham saw instantly that Woodward couldn’t tell if she was joking or serious.

“I’m kidding, I’m kidding,” Graham assured him.

Leadership often isn’t about stirring moments of clear results. A leader is just as likely to be immersed in fog and darkness as clarity and light. And the truth is that there will be occasions when the leader is unable to bring resolution to things. He or she has to make the best of it. Usually, making the best of it refers to doing what’s right for followers, helping them out in some meaningful way.

Graham had to accept Woodward’s answer. There wasn’t anything she could do to change it. The bigger issue at that moment was the condition of her follower and team member, Woodward. He needed his leader to show support or, at least, not explode in anger, resentment, and hostility.

Graham accomplishes this in two ways that you should tuck away in your mind for future use. She used total honesty. She showed that she was in the same place, the same predicament, as her follower. In addition, she employed a gentle display of humor to give the tone and tenor a slight lift. Nothing like an appropriate dash of humor to reassure someone. The operative word here, of course, is “appropriate.”

Both Graham and Woodward walked away with more assurance than they had before lunch began. The toughest question had been posed, a less-than-glowing answer had been given, and the ground beneath hadn’t melted away.

Hard lesson to embrace. Necessary lesson to master.

One last thing. Woodward’s secret source has now come to light, some four decades after the fact. “Deep Throat” was actually Mark Felt, a disgruntled administrator at the FBI.

All the best, Dan