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Alan M. Webber

Alan M. Webber

Alan Webber, a founding editor of Fast Company magazine, is an award-winning editor, author, and columnist. His most recent book is Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Yourself.

Unwelcome Ghost

When I left Fast Company magazine, 10 years after imagining and creating it, one thing was clear in my mind: The last thing the new editor needed was me looking over his shoulder. And the last thing the people at the magazine needed was me hanging around like an unwelcome ghost. Anything I would say or do would necessarily be interpreted on at least two levels: I'd be inviting comparison between me and my successor, and I'd be putting the staff in an uncomfortable position of having divided loyalties and split emotions.

Having written about succession planning and the art of leaving -- especially for founders and entrepreneurs -- I made a promise to myself to get out of the picture, to leave the field to my successor, and to comment only positively or not at all when asked about his performance and the overall direction of the magazine once I was gone. In my view, this was good practice, good business, good attitude, good grace -- and a good way to conduct myself in private and in public.

In business, most leaders follow this prescription after they step down. In politics, usually people who have occupied the highest levels of government follow the same code, unless the stakes get so high that they have to comment, or the political season arrives and they are expected to make some partisan comments. But if you track the conduct of former presidents, for example, they tend to be very wise in the judgments they render about their successors.

Obviously former Vice President Cheney feels differently. He follows his own code, which excludes good practice, good business, good attitude, good grace. He is an angry and vitriolic man, spewing venom across the nation's airwaves and in the pages of the daily papers. Interestingly, the response to his comments suggests that most people in America think he is out of line, that his attitude and opinions -- his stance as a retired political leader -- lacks good judgment and good grace. And so, as he did when he was in office, he successfully performs the work of being his own worst enemy.

His conduct should be a reminder to leaders who've stepped down from office, whether in the public or private sector, that they owe their successor the decency of support, and if not support, then silence. When you're not in charge any more, you need to move on. That's as true for former magazine editors as it is for former vice presidents.

By Alan M. Webber

 |  May 12, 2009; 2:40 PM ET
Category:  Followership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I'm a minister in a liberal, mainstream denomination. When one of our ministers leaves a congregation, it is considered unethical for the (now) former minister to comment negatively on the ministry of his or her successor. If it happens, sanctions are often applied, including loss of ministerial standing and fellowship. The people in the pews are usually wise enough to handle any issue concerning their present minister and do not need advice or criticism from the former minister. At best it interferes with the relationship between the successor minister and his/her congregation. It seems to me the same can be said of the wisdom of a former elected politician critiquing his/her successor - the people and the successor should be left to work it out without the predecessor's meddling.

Posted by: washpost16 | May 13, 2009 5:29 PM
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While I understand and appreciate the commentary about former officials withholding or keeping private their criticism of the new administration, I think they do have the right -and perhaps the duty- to publicize their views. This assumes that their advice (criticism)is offered in good faith for the purpose of promoting good public policy as opposed to simply taking political pot shots. Of course, whether the criticism is seen as being offered as good public policy or as a political attack will probably depend on ones' political leanings. In Mr. Cheney's case it would serve him better if he were to offer more constructive comments and turn down the volume of his political attacks. His recent comments do smack of sour grapes and he hasn't done himself any favors. Given the political climate after the end of the Bush administration it would be unlikely that many people would accept Mr. Cheney in an elder statesman role, but the nature and tone of his recent comments will likely diminish this opportunity even further. All in all, Mr. Cheney has just given ammunition to his critics and made it more difficult for future officials to offer constructive criticism when they leave office.

Posted by: JMC11 | May 13, 2009 5:27 PM
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Its a two way street - It's the Obama administration that keeps talking about the previous administration policies so its inevitable that Cheney and others are going to respond. No reasonable person can expect the Bush / Cheney administration to continually have sand kicked in their face and sit by silently. Its time for the Obama administration to look forward, not backward and live up to the "change" that was the foundation of his election. America is ready for a real leader to move us forward. We don't need another politician that keeps casting blame.

Posted by: kramertal | May 13, 2009 1:58 PM
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You all want to end free speech for anyone who does not agree with you. What group does that remind you of. What a bunch of whiners.

Don't listen to him that is your solution

Posted by: kathymac1 | May 13, 2009 1:30 PM
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if they would move on with one iota of respect for the work done by the prior administration.....

TONYNELSON- Why isn't Cheney retired in Jackson Hole??? I don't think he's VP anymore or does he have a job in Obama's cabinet?
No-Last I remember there is a NEW ADMINISTRATION and that means America HAS moved on...maybe it's the FORMER ADMINISTRATION that is in DENIAL. Maybe they should try to RESPECT AMERICA'S DECISION and MOVE ON to something else.

Cheney has NO PLACE HERE- why are so many pretending he does? Can't he find something to do with all the money they made from Blackwater, Iraq, DRUGS and the American taxpayer? Millions of unemployed people have some ideas.

Posted by: lioness_ohyes | May 13, 2009 1:11 PM
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Don Vito Corleone, although weary from all his years building and maintaining a powerful business empire, did not entirely step down in retirement.

@rehillcj- The Godfather is a movie and Don Corleone is a character- this is real life sweetie. When you got married did your father come to your house, pay your bills, father your children and raise them? No-but he probably gave you advice if you asked for it...and when you didn't want it. The next time your father gives you advice you didn't ask for or when you feel like he's trying to run your life and you wish he would shut up and go home....pretend he's Dick Cheney.
Turn the DVD off and step into the real world. The Bush/Cheney years are over RETIREMENT means he's DONE. Obama's people will call him if they need him...he hasn't made that call yet and I pray Cheney will hold his breath until that phone rings.

Posted by: lioness_ohyes | May 13, 2009 1:01 PM
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What about FORMER does Cheney not understand? NO ONE IS ASKING FOR CHENEY'S INPUT. It's not his place to offer anything. He and Bush controlled that domain 100% and left no room for input or opinion from anyone and if you didn't agree the condemned you- "if you are not with us you are against us". Why would he expect to be welcomed by anyone?
As he did so shall it be done to him and I hope he gets EXACTLY what he deserves. So what if Obama has less experience when he has a better record of success? Bush was a failure at EVERYTHING he did while he was Governor and President and Cheney has years of practice in DECEPTION- what good has either of them done America?
Cheney is insignificant- why else would he be defending something no one is criticizing? He's a sad, lonely bitter man. He was at a Starbucks in McLean last Thursday sans secret service even drove his own car- nobody really cared or made a big to do about it. He needs to go home, sit down and shut up. We WANT to forget him and all his hateful deeds.

Posted by: lioness_ohyes | May 13, 2009 12:47 PM
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I respectfully disagree with the notion that an elder statesman need completely step away from the decision-making process after retirement. For example, Don Vito Corleone, although weary from all his years building and maintaining a powerful business empire, did not entirely step down in retirement. Even after his son Michael proved himself a competent Don, his father was still acting in the indispenable role of his consigliere.

Posted by: rehillcj | May 13, 2009 11:06 AM
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It's our current "leadership"'s crass behavior that's causing this. If they would move on with one iota of respect for the work done by the prior administration, Cheney would be retired in Wyoming by now.

Posted by: tonynelson1 | May 13, 2009 11:04 AM
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It seems like its in vogue to bash the previous administration now.

GW Bush started it with his comments about restoring "dignity to the white house".

The Obama has taken full aim at Bush's economic policies but the GOP should take heart for the following reason:

Obama is a relative new comer to the national scene.

Had he been in office on October 2000 when the bi-partisan commission released their report on the trade deficit - Bush bashing would climb to heights that no president has had to endure in the last 100 years.

Yes, it isn't pleasant but it could be much worse GOP.

Posted by: agapn9 | May 13, 2009 11:03 AM
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magellan1 @ May 13, 2009 6:45 AM: Some of my Republican friends still blame Clinton for what Bush did. AS for anyone 'bashing the previous administration', all I can say is that by the time Bush left we were stuck with 2 wars and an economy in free-fall. For the past 6 months of his Presidency, both Bush and Cheney were absent, silent, irrelevant. That is not bashing, but a statement of fact.

Posted by: AMviennaVA | May 13, 2009 9:23 AM
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The x-president cheney is clearly on the defense and obviously trying to cover up his handy work.

He is acting like a caged animal, defending his turf, the guilty always act this way

Posted by: writedave | May 13, 2009 6:57 AM
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If you want to say that successors deserve "the decency of support, and if not support, then silence", fine. Mr. Obama, and his administration, should also practice silence.

From the inaugural moment to the present, they have been bashing the previous administration. Even though former President Bush has shown great restraint, Obama and his crew are inviting a response with their classless behavior.

Posted by: magellan1 | May 13, 2009 6:45 AM
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yes, mr cheney follows his own code. he always has. the fact that we somehow survived eight years of cheney's irresponsible and sociopathic vice presidency has shaken my atheism to its very core. my low opinion of mr bush may have risen a little bit due to his post-term silence, but my opinion of mr cheney still manages to go lower still. he is forgotten, but not gone.

Posted by: jrm1 | May 12, 2009 3:52 PM
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