Costo's controversial book decisionThe Washington Times has a piece that highlights the importance of not only realizing the dangers of bringing politics into your business decisions, but the dangers of making a decision that simply appears political.

As Ben Carson describes, the former CEO of Costco “made no secret of his profound admiration for President Obama and his policies.” So, when a new book criticizing the president was pulled from Costco’s shelves, many customers assumed it was a politically motivated decision.

That wasn’t the case:

Because of Mr. Sinegal’s very public support of Mr. Obama, the recent withdrawal of the book “America: Imagine a World Without Her” by Dinesh D’Souza from Costco warehouses nationwide, just before the release of the movie by the same title, was widely interpreted as a political move, since the movie is very critical of the president. I spoke to the current CEO of Costco, Craig Jelinek, who was so absorbed in the business of the company that he was unaware of the movie prior to the resultant backlash. He readily admitted that those responsible for managing the very limited book space in Costco warehouses should have been aware of the imminent release of the movie and retained the book in anticipation of brisk stimulation of book sales, which had been very sluggish.

The book has since been put back on Costco’s shelves.

The lesson? Perception can become reality. That is especially true if your company (or its executives) decide to make public statements about politics or religion. Any subsequent decisions will be watched by those with an opposing view and they’ll be quick to raise a reputation lynch mob.

Of course, the easiest way to protect your reputation from such an attack is to never discuss matters that are polarizing and have little to do with your business. That’s not always the case–and some execs have built a strong reputation by being vocal–which means all business decisions must be vetted to ensure that their intentions cannot be misconstrued by its stakeholders.

And, if there’s any possible doubt, make it very clear why a decision was made.

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