What Young Professionals Can Learn from Comey

AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB / Getty Images

I have some new-found free time, and I used some of that free time today to watch the Comey hearing. Regardless of how you feel about the current investigation, I think that young professionals can learn a lot from how James Comey conducts himself not only in a political hearing, but in a professional way. Comey is in no-doubt a seasoned professional. He served four of his ten year term as FBI director, but he served as a US Attorney beforehand, and worked on some pretty high-profile cases. He’s the one who brought charges against Martha Stewart, of which she was found guilty on all counts. Here’s what I noticed from Comey’s testimony today that I thought was relevant to professional situations.

  1. Be honest.

    Comey’s testimony revealed a lot of truths about the investigation. Obviously, when someone is under an oath and on-the-record, we assume that their statements are true. But Comey answered all questions posed to him, as long as the question was able to be answered in a public hearing. This is in stark contrast to the hearing yesterday, where members of the intelligence committee refused to comment on specific conversations with the president.

    Young professionals would be good to follow suit in most situations, if presented. Honesty has always been my policy, and it’s certain that an honest professional is more credible than one who dodges questions. Whether in politics or otherwise, nobody wants to speak with someone who withholds information or lies.

  2. Sometimes, be quiet.

    I heard a commentator on CNN who was disgruntled with Comey’s actions when he didn’t tell President Trump up-front that his actions were dishonest, but instead took notes. I found this notion absurd. I have been in situations where I have felt uncomfortable about a colleague’s dialogue, but have kept it private. In this way, I think Comey was right in his action to not immediately disclose his conversations with the President when he knew it was possibly unethical, even unconstitutional. Comey likely knew this was likely to end up the way it has ended up. He was wise, and was quiet. He released the information, and kept track of the occasions that there were discrepancies, and then when the time came he was ready to defend himself.

    I think this lesson goes past the communication profession and extends to working relationships in general. When dealing with unruly bosses, creepy superiors, or even just a disgruntled coworker, it never hurts to document what happened, even if just to cover your own butt. Sometimes you may never have to use this information against a coworker or in defense of your own person, but it’s just for your own safety. I have kept information for this reason in the past, and I have never found myself in a position where I had to report it to my superior or a member of HR, but I do not regret documenting it. Hopefully you never have to use it either, but until that time, in some situations, it’s best to keep to yourself. Just like Comey.

  3. Always take notes.

    Like the above post, notes, or documentation of hostile or unethical instances, often does more than benefit yourself. In the case of James Comey, it made him a more credible source for information when he was asked to testify. And, his forethought to take detailed notes of encounters with the President and other important officials gave him materials he was able to then turn into the acting Attorney General for evidence to prove his case.

    I am a podcast fan. In one of my favorite podcasts, Serial, Adnan Syed is asked about six weeks after a specific day when his girlfriend goes missing what he did that day. Adnan, regarding the day in question as a normal day, says he doesn’t remember what he did, specifically in the hours in question, when they believe the murder was committed. For this reason, among others, Adnan is still in prison fifteen years later. I don’t want to go too deep into this true crime drama, but basically, sometimes having an alibi can keep you out of trouble if you were ever accused of something, be it a murder or a bold email to a boss. I keep a planner, so due to my excellent organization skills, I would like to think that within reason, I can go back and recount my schedule. Comey can do the same thing on these pivotal moments due to his notes. While I’m not suggesting young professionals should be constantly preparing themselves for testimony, it’s important to be accountable. Taking notes in meetings ensures you remember the main talking points, but specifically, you remember the tasks your boss asked you to complete. After an hour long meeting, do you remember everything your boss said? I’m not implying that you don’t listen in meetings, but sometimes, it’s hard to keep track of all that information without a written record. At least, for me. I would argue that taking notes and writing down my schedule offer me many distinct advantages in my organization. Comey would likely agree that a written record, whether that’s notes or keeping an agenda, is probably a good idea.

  4. Never skip dinner with your wife.

    Comey was asked at one point in the testimony about the dinner he had with Trump, where one of the most objectionable statements was allegedly made, Trump asking Comey to “let [Mike Flynn] go.” In this situation, Comey describes the instance Trump called him and asked him to come to dinner. Comey says he had to cancel a prior engagement with his wife to attend dinner with the President. In retrospect, Comey said he wishes he would have kept his previous engagement and enjoys spending time with his wife. The moral of this story, of course, is not a professional one. But regardless, you should never skip dinner with your wife.

Sources:
All information included about the Comey testimony and prior testimony of intelligence officials received from live CNN coverage. Live updates can be found here.

Image of James Comey. AFP photo by Saul Loeb, Getty Images. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/james-comey-testimony-photos_us_59394c64e4b0061054801922

Background information about James Comey retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/03/us/james-comey-fast-facts/index.html

Find more information about Serial (it’s a great podcast) at https://serialpodcast.org/