Why Brian Williams’ Suspension Surprised Me


I’ve been hashing and re-hashing the news that NBC has suspended anchor Brian Williams, after it was revealed he embellished stories concerning his experiences. Whether his memories became hazy when recalling events, or he purposely enhanced his story of a helicopter ride in 2003, is really of no consequence. His role as managing editor at NBC required the utmost caution and care when disseminating information — an essential competency for continued success in that role.

I truly feel for his predicament, as we all make mistakes — and his respect his tenure. However, I remain disappointed that NBC didn’t respect the most critical competency required for that role: complete honesty.

Organizations become loyal to their most valued employees — a common and usually positive occurrence. (It is the essence of building a two-way relationship.) However, that loyalty can negatively impact that same organization in cases such as this. Our own judgements can become cloudy, where a much loved or respected colleague are concerned. But, in extreme cases, a parting of the ways is the only solution that really makes sense.

A 6 month suspension does offer Williams and NBC time to sort out his situation, and consider potential paths. However, he should have stepped down from his role immediately. When he didn’t do so — he likely should have been fired, rather than suspended.

Leaders must make tough calls where the essence of their organizational mission is threatened. I do understand that in this case, there are many powerful elements to consider.

But sadly, in some cases — we must part ways with even our most engaging employees.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.

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