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Marty Linsky

Marty Linsky

Co-founder of the leadership-focused consulting firm, Cambridge Leadership Associates, Marty Linsky teaches at the Harvard Kennedy School, co-authors the advice column, Leadership House Call and blogs at Linsky on Leadership .

Craigslist founder saw the writing on the wall

Q: In defending Craigslist against charges that it facilitates prostitution and casual sex and undermines the news business, founder Craig Newmark relies on an unwavering commitment to free expression, free markets and an open Internet. Is such an unwavering commitment to core principles the essence of leadership, or is leadership more about accommodating core principles to other social needs and values?

Leadership is contextual, not binary. What makes leadership difficult is that it requires choosing between deeply-held values which are in conflict.

Presumably, Newmark believes both in an open Internet and curbing the forced sexual exploitation of teenage girls. Without being cynical at all, but being realistic, I would suggest that for Newmark, keeping Craigslist alive and thriving would be a higher value than either of the other two in almost all imaginable circumstances (see, for example, Google and China) . Sacrificing your body for the cause is sometimes, but very rarely, necessary. Noble defeat, more commonly called martyrdom, is sometimes required, but is not the only way leadership can be manifested.

Leadership also requires you to be absolutely committed to your cause, here freedom of expression, and at the same time be open to the possibility that there is a better idea out there.

The art of leadership is knowing when to stick to your guns and when to accommodate other views. Newmark saw the handwriting on the wall. He was not willing to risk sacrificing the franchise on the altar of freedom to advertise the forced sexual exploitation of young women.

Good for him. And good for the activists who were smart and skillful enough to rise the heat and force him to make a choice he would have preferred not to have had to make.

They, not Newmark, exercised the real leadership here.

By Marty Linsky

 |  September 7, 2010; 8:28 AM ET
Category:  CEOs , Corporate leadership , Ethics Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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