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Howard Gardner

Howard Gardner

Howard Gardner is the Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Senior Director of Harvard Project Zero.

No Oprah-style confession

Barack Obama still sneaks cigarettes. Gordon Brown has a mean temper. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin struggles with her weight. At what point do a leader's personal vices begin to undermine effectiveness? Is it better to hide them or acknowledge them?

In an age of authenticity and transparency, it is not possible to hide these personal habits and characteristics, so far better to be straightforward and honest about them. In my view, such candor would have been preferable even in an earlier age, when authority and privacy were more dominant.

Of course, the three examples are quite different from one another. President Obama's smoking (if true) affects chiefly himself; Surgeon General Benjamin's weight struggles (if true) make her a less effective spokesperson with respect to this issue; Prime Minister Brown's temper tantrums (if true) have the potential to affect all who are working with him, and so have far wider ramifications.

I don't think that any of these individuals owes us an Oprah/reality-TV style 'let it all hang out' confession. But if, in the course of carrying out their work, a discussion of this issue would be clarifying, rather than posturing, then I'd be comfortable with some words about the problem, why it arose, and how they propose to address it.

By Howard Gardner

 |  March 1, 2010; 2:07 PM ET
Category:  Leadership weaknesses Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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