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Handle employee blunders with grace

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in Centerpiece,Leaders & Managers,People Management

Employee blunderIn the 1970s, David Rockefeller ran Chase Manhattan Bank. His longtime public affairs aide, Fraser Seitel, helped draft the CEO’s speeches.

In the nearly 50 years that Seitel worked for Rockefeller (1915-2017), he only ticked off his boss once.

Preparing to address a global economic forum on the controversial issue of lending to poorer countries, Rockefeller asked Seitel to write his speech. It underwent 13 drafts to ensure it struck the right tone.

Just before Rockefeller delivered the speech, Seitel arranged for the media to receive a copy of his remarks. Rockefeller stuck to his draft and gave a solid presentation, and Seitel praised his boss for his performance.

The next morning, a furor erupted. The Wall Street Journal’s headline blared, “Passages Rockefeller’s Speech Leaves Out Tell More Than Those Included.”

As it turns out, Seitel had mistakenly given reporters an earlier draft of the speech.

“Prior to the speech, I had carefully made sure that Mr. Rockefeller had the right copy in hand, but failed to double-check the copies we had distributed to the press,” Seitel recalls.

Rockefeller was annoyed by the unexpected uproar. But rather than explode in anger at Seitel, he quietly conveyed his disappointment with an “arched eyebrow,” Seitel says.

Seitel never forgot the look on Rockefeller’s face. It spoke volumes.

From then on, Seitel acted more diligently when reviewing and distributing drafts of Rockefeller’s speeches. He says that while some powerful CEOs would “belittle or scream or rant or demand,” Rockefeller expressed his displeasure without raising his voice.

— Adapted from, “Rockefeller’s speechwriting reminder,” Fraser Seitel, www.odwyerpr.com.

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