Lessons of a Washington Scandal

For the past week, U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner has been harshly criticized for “sexting”: exchanging lewd photos with numerous young women, one allegedly a minor, during business hours as a member of the US House. The fact that he’s also married only make his situation more embarrassing. Politicians, editorial columns and President Obama have chastised him and challenged him to resign.
For an increasing number of Americans, “sexting” is an accepted part of flirting online, widespread in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and countless dating sites. But Weiner’s celebrity, his leadership role and his additional missteps have turned this personal foible into a damaging national scandal.
Regardless of how we might judge Rep. Weiner’s actions and the public’s reactions, we can agree that this episode has thusfar worked out quite badly for him. In my executive coaching work, I refer to this sort of impulsive, destructive behavior as spinning out of control, and I have developed techniques that can help you stop the spin, balance your perspective, and retake control of your life. If you find yourself in a situation like this, keep these things in mind:

  • If you’re sharing any information about yourself, particularly online, take a moment to think about how far it might spread and the damage it might do.
  • Know who you’re dealing with and don’t make assumptions. The anonymity of the internet makes it easy to interact with people who aren’t who they say they are. If Weiner flirted with a minor, whether he knew it or not, his personal issues may become legal issues.
  • Our personal relationships, especially with our spouses and families, affect every other aspect of our careers and our lives. Problems at home can never really be kept hidden. They must be addressed.
  • Remember that the online world is not separate from the real one. Don’t devote time and energy to sites like Twitter and Facebook if it detracts from your professional success.

With the opportunities of new technology come emergent risks. Rep. Weiner may resign his Congressional seat or he may lose his approaching re-election bid. (Right now, he appears to be leaning toward outright resignation.) His marriage may end or he may be able to save it and discover ways for his wife and himself to heal. Somehow, he will have to live down his public humiliation. The best that we can do is to learn from his example, know how to recognize the spin, and take control before we lose control.
 


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