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Leadership Lessons from being hacked

December 9, 2016

Has your email account ever been hacked? Your credit card compromised? Some piece of identification fraudulently used. It can be frustrating and time-consuming to fix. Yet I believe this unfortunate experience also can show us some leadership lessons.

computer-hackerYesterday, my email account was hacked. In fairness to yahoo, they sent me a warning in the morning of a suspicious entry in Nigeria and to change my password, so I planned to do so later in the day. But I got busy with some meetings in the afternoon and… About 4:30 pm the phone calls and texts started coming. At first, it was surprising… then it got funny as I was receiving calls every couple minutes while also receiving text messages letting me know what happened… then it became annoying as the phone kept ringing every few minutes as our family was eating supper.

Here is the exact text of the email my address book was sent: “I really hope you get this fast, am in Manila, Philippines right now for a short holiday trip and am short of cash right here, i tried to access my account from the cash machines here and its not working, i went to the bank to withdraw and i was informed that i can’t withdraw from my account in some countries,that its network errors, am wondering if i could get a quick loan from you or anything you can afford to loan me to clear some little things here…I promise to refund it back to you as soon as i get back home, let me know if this is possible so i can send you my details.”

So what did I learn from this embarassing, humbling, frustrating, funny, and encouraging situation?

First, there are many things to do in a day, but every once in a while something comes across your desk that you need to deal with urgently. Failure to deal with the matter right away will result in much more frustration later, and could cost you significant resources. As a leader, you don’t know which “fire” is going to into an all-consuming disaster and which ones can be snuffed out by someone else or at a later date. You have to trust your instincts. Sometimes it helps if you have an executive assistant, a second-in-command, or a spouse who is intuitive and can sense if something seemingly innocuous is about to blow up into something dangerous. Leaders need to listen to others advice. In my example, I should have listened more carefully to my wife when she first showed me the “warning.”

Secondly, once the fire does start to spread, don’t be embarassed to scramble and avoid further damage. After the initial phone calls and texts, I posted a status update on facebook indicating my email account had been hacked. It was embarassing to put on facebook that my email had been hacked, I was not in the Philippines needing rescue, and that I was having an otherwise uneventful  day (freezing) in our small community in Alberta, Canada. Yet, it minimized many more phone calls and proved beneficial in other ways too. When a potentially avoidable disaster has started, everyone knows you are embarassed and are scrambling to cover your butt. Just admit it.

Additionally, not only did I readily admit the unfortunate situation as soon as possible, people seemed to enjoy my adding some humor to the report! If a leader cannot laugh at him/herself, it will be a pretty tough environment for staff.

Some friends who saw the scam email knew me well enough to say, “We knew you wouldn’t just be touring around the Philippines. You would probably be there on business for (an NGO I have connections with).” Others mentioned the poor writing of the email was a giveaway that I didn’t compose the request.

Finally, the email hack allowed me to have conversations with people I have not talked to in a long time… because they called me out of the blue when they saw the bogus message to make sure I really was okay. It was great to talk for a few minutes with these people and it never would have happened if my email account had not been hacked. In the end, this activity that was meant for evil, God turned to good. Leaders, remember God can do that in the challenging predicament you face.

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