News of the publication of 250,000 diplomatic cables, sent from, or to, US embassies has provoked a stormy debate about the rights and wrongs of ‘leaking’. This paper does not attempt to adjudicate. Instead, it considers the lessons the WikiLeaks saga has for all involved in change leadership.
1. Reaction of the Authorities to WikiLeaks
Unsurprisingly, US government officials have taken the lead in demanding the prosecution of the leakers. There have been claims from various senior figures, including Hilary Clinton, that the leaks have put lives in danger. The Guardian’s Michael White commented:
“What’s interesting in all these cases is the reaction of those in authority. You’re doing a lot of harm, they say. Are they right or wrong?” (Guardian website, 30 November 2010).
The answer is of more than of academic interest. Business life routinely throws up similar issues, not least in the context of organisational change.
Publishing or speaking ‘the truth’ in business (cue Jack Nicholson, in A Few Good Men, bellowing: ‘You can’t handle the truth!’) often draws similar condemnation from those in corporate authority. Change leaders have to deal with such dilemmas every day.
This paper explores the mechanics of these dilemmas and suggests that we need to challenge the idea espoused by Jack Nicholson’s character, that the truth is too difficult to handle.