Who To Listen To

WHO TO LISTEN TO….James Joyner is at a conference and has this to say:

My general observation, having gone to a lot of these sort of things, is that one usually gets very good insights from ground-level practitioners (diplomats, officers below the grade of colonel, congressional staffers, and the like) and from very high-level decisionmakers (presidents, cabinet secretaries, 4-star flag officers, etc.) but anything uttered by a non-4 star general officer, ambassador, undersecretary, or non-leadership congressman is likely to be exceedingly uninteresting. The best one can hope for from the last group is that they will say nothing in a humorous and charming manner.

I’d never really thought about it before, but that’s pretty much true in the business world too. Low level folks are often interesting because they (a) have detailed subject matter knowledge and (b) aren’t always savvy enough to realize what they should and shouldn’t say in public. They just like to chat. Conversely, top executives have lots of big picture and strategic insight, and they’re so savvy that they know exactly what they can and can’t talk freely about. And they don’t have to worry about getting fired if they make a mistake.

Mid-level folks, on the other hand, have the worst of both worlds. They often don’t have the detailed knowledge of the worker bees ? this isn’t a criticism, it’s just the nature of the job ? but also don’t have sufficient big picture insight to feel confident that they know what they can and can’t talk about. They’re savvy enough to know there are things they should keep quiet about, they just aren’t always sure what they are. So discretion becomes the better part of valor.

And then there are secretaries, the most valuable resources of all. Sadly, a variety of factors have contributed to thinning their ranks considerably in the modern business environment. The world of executive gossip is the poorer for it.