As a former reporter, I can say some of my best stories came from leaks. Yes, leaks to the media drive presidents crazy. But, Mr. Trump is not the first to be frustrated by them. And he won’t be the last.
So, what causes leaks and what should be done about them? Every person who leaks information to the press has an agenda. It’s the journalist’s job to be aware of what it is.
What Causes Leaks?
There are many reasons for the behavior. Those leaking:
- Want to undercut the administration’s agenda because they do not agree with it.
- Hope to gain political advantage by harming the people they are leaking about.
- Have personal animus toward someone (I once got a leak from the ex-wife of a well known figure).
- Wish to curry favor with the media with the hope of some future benefit.
- Hope to educate the media without their name attached
- Are good people who simply want to right a wrong.
The last two reasons are why leaks are needed. Otherwise, too much government incompetence, deceit and corruption would go unnoticed. The same can be said for corporate misbehavior, too.
But, not all leakers are created equal. If someone consistently tries to undercut administration policy simply because he/she doesn’t agree with it, they deserve to be disciplined. Of course, they have a right, and obligation, to register dissent. But once policy is set, they should make a good faith effort to comply. Policy must be set by the elected officials, not by unelected bureaucrats. Too many bureaucrats think they have earned the right to set policy. They haven’t. That’s why elections matters. The same applies to leakers with personal axes to grind.
How Do You Deal with Leaks?
Checking staffers’ cell phones is not the answer. It sends the wrong message: you don’t trust your own staff. Better approaches include:
The best way to minimize leaks is with leadership. The leader’s job is to convince those working for him/her that they are part of a noble cause and everyone there plays a role in that mission. I know that sounds naive these days, but true leaders are capable of such an impact. Leadership requires a consistent and persistent message that resonates with employees.
- Fire People
If you inherit political appointees who will never agree to support your goals, you should fire them….quickly. They are poison to the rank-and-file whose respect the leaders must earn.
The more transparent you are, the less there is to reveal through leaks. Transparency is a culture and it will no doubt produce some embarrassments. But, the alternative is more damaging leaks.
- Hold the Media Accountable
Does the media use the leaks to reveal truth and create more justice, or are they used to get back at a politician they don’t like? That’s a fair question.
We live in a free society. Organizations are going to have leaks. Have a plan in place for dealing with the next crisis.
For the public, they should remember government and the media each has their own agenda, too. Seek information from multiple sources, pay more attention and speak up.
Mark Grimm spent 12 years as a TV journalist, 11 years as a media professor and hosts a popular radio show.
- Fire People:
You also have to fire people. If you inherit political appointees who will never support your goals, they need to go…quickly. They are poison to the rank-and-file whose respect the leaders must earn.