Is Social Media Worth It? An Unfortunate Leadership Lesson from James Gunn

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Today, I have an easy tip that, unfortunately, we are learning from the misfortunes of others. Famed director James Gunn was recently removed as the director of Guardians of the Galaxy due to some inappropriate tweets he wrote ten years ago. According to Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn, “The offensive attitudes and statements discovered on James’ Twitter feed are indefensible and inconsistent with our studio’s values, and we have severed our business relationship with him.”

Many people who have followed my career know when I started, I viewed myself as a provocateur, making movies and telling jokes that were outrageous and taboo. As I have discussed publicly many times, as I’ve developed as a person, so has my work and my humor.—James Gunn

I don’t know what Gunn posted, but I do know that his firing was swift. This reminds me of a termination I conducted last summer. I had hired a summer intern who was going to spend 2 months learning the world of accounting. He was smart and enthusiastic, and we were looking forward to some help. Then, on his first day, he followed me on Twitter.

As I looked through his profile, I was shocked by some of his posts. Two days before beginning his internship, he bragged about taking illegal drugs. The week prior, he posted, “I love Adderall! Thanks for sharing , really helped with finals #SnortSnort.” As I went through his timeline, there were pictures of bongs, more posts about drugs, and some pretty rough language.

Why did he feel the need to post these things? Why didn’t a parent, teacher, or friend pull him aside and smack him upside the head? Why didn’t a professor mention that employers look at social media (especially when you initiate the connection).

This young man was fired from his internship within his first hour. I’ve never conducted an enjoyable termination meeting, but this one will remain one of the worst. The look on his face was haunting. Between tears, all he kept saying was, “What am I going to tell my dad.” If you remember making a mistake in your late teens and having to own up to it then you can empathize with him…even if it was of his own doing.

My leadership lesson is very simple—go through your social media and delete anything that can be remotely considered offensive. If it mentions an illegal activity, delete it. If you’re talking about how drunk you were last weekend, delete it. If you typed profanity, even in jest, delete it. If your account is set for privacy, delete the posts anyway—nothing on social media is actually private. And in the future, avoid posting anything in that realm of thought.

Social media can be fun, but the ramifications can be detrimental. You are no safer than a summer intern or one of the most successful directors of the last 20 years. Clean it up before it takes you down.

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