Monday, December 20, 2010

What Wikileaks Should Teach Association Executives

I don't want to get into the politics of the Wikileaks story, but this post from the HBR blog really got me thinking this week. In reflecting on what it means when a professional, technically sophisticated, and well-protected government such as the United States suffers an intelligence breach of this magnitude, the author specualtes on what that might mean for the rest of us.

And here is the obvious implication, which reaches beyond governments to companies and even to individuals. Thanks to Wikileaks, you can now expect that day to come when your most private and candid communications will appear for all to peruse. In preparation for that moment, you better make sure that your private dealings match your public declarations, if not perfectly then at least pretty close.

Which begs the question--how well would your association survive a "Wikileaks dump" of its private communications?

Most association execs I know do a good job separating their public from their private communications. As popular as email and social networking are these days for associations, most are sensitive to the fact that these are largely "open" platforms, and as such, save their most private and confidential discussions for other forms of communication. The telephone. The face-to-face meeting. We know these tools still have a place in our modern world--and perhaps Wikileaks teaches us that place is now more important than ever.

But in an age of voice-over IP and cell phone video uploads to YouTube, even the telephone and the face-to-face meeting may no longer be as private as we once thought they were. There may indeed come a day when communications transmitted with these tools will be just as accessible and searchable as the diplomatic cables now up on the Wikileaks site.

So what's a humble exec to do? We will always need a way to communicate privately with individuals--I don't see that ending anytime soon. But if our private actions are not in line with our public personas, we will find more challenges ahead than we know what to do with.

As I prepare to meet the new frontier that will be 2011, I'm going to do my best not to treat Wikileaks as a cautionary tale, and not retreat from being who I am online, seeking engagement with others also committed to being their authentic selves. Instead, I will choose to view Wikileaks as a call-to-action, and a reminder that we can only achieve what our organizations need us to by making sure our private actions match our public ones.


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