The biggest mistake CEOs and business leaders make is to think they, and their companies, are infallible. This sentiment is particularly evident when times are good. However, life being what it is, people in responsible positions have an obligation to educate and prepare themselves for all eventualities.
Though no one knows when the next disaster will strike, be it natural, political, or corporate, it is just a matter of time before it hits. Can you imagine a surgeon who says, "I'm not going to learn how to use the new "retracting cardio-dissector thinga-ma-jiggy" until a patient is dying on my operating table? Or a politician who says, "I was elected by a landslide and my career is moving along smoothly so how hard can it really be to deal with a bunch of nosy reporters? It's not like the crisis was my fault!"
Sooner or later, shareholders and the public are going to wise up and hold monetarily accountable ill-prepared officers, directors, and executives who fail to communicate properly with news media, and in fact take bad situations and make them worse.
Tony Hayward, ex CEO of BP ruined his career, his company's reputation, and for all we know maybe even caused more environmental destruction because he did not know how to communicate effectively. The fact is that Hayward may have struck some of the right chords in addressing the BP oil spill, but as he discovered, a media spokesperson at a time of crisis is only as good as his worst quote. Hayward got his wish, by the way. He now has his life back.
With a little knowledge and training it is possible to turn things around. Consider Bill Clinton, a man immersed in countless controversies who still two decades later is able to command a speaking fee that would make Warren Buffet blush. Clinton didn't fall into it by accident. Sure, he has a natural talent to talk his way out of trouble, but natural talent only buys you a thin slice of time. When you take your second breath in front of a gaggle of TV news cameras you better know exactly how to manage your message to prevent reporters from eating you alive while your competitors silently cheer with glee.
Howard Pastor, CEO of Hill & Knowlton said, "When the satellite truck has pulled into the parking lot it is too late to discuss crisis management."
Today, more than at any time in history leaders need good, no, GREAT communication skills. It's not enough anymore to be simply "good" when you consider all the social media tools available to anyone interested in self-appointing themselves a citizen journalist. You have to be great and know how to diffuse a situation on the fly. Thankfully, it's a learned skill.
Social media tools like blogs and Twitter are turning society inside out. Powerful CEOs and politicians now not only have to worry about mainstream news media, but they also have to be concerned about information leaked by their limo driver and published by their nanny. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
The real challenge comes from the MBA in your organization who feels unfairly passed over and is going to start a blog to demonstrate to shareholders the inept and irresponsible actions of high priced leaders. The answer is to manage your communication properly so you can prevent an already bad situation from getting worse.
Telling the truth is a start, but it is not enough. You have to tell your story in a way that prevents your words from being misinterpreted, and at the same time effectively gets your point across.
Write a comment