Successful leaders and executive have achieved their status because they most often drive the agenda. They set the tone. But what happens when they no longer "drive the show"?
In some cases. senior executives, elected officials and other leaders have a hard time dealing when events dictate their actions. It's reality that might be foreign to many of them.
And, when the "boss" makes the crisis worse (or even creates it ...) the challenges are multiplied. Think of how long it took the leadership of the railway responsible for the Lac Mégantic disaster to occupy the public space following the event: dozens dead, a downtown destroyed and a communications response so pathetic it's now a case study in what NOT to do:
- a paper release nearly a day later ... sent in English only whereas this happened in French-speaking Québec ...
- Then a news release in French obviously from Google Translate full of mistakes
- and worse of all ... the delayed and much improvised appearance of the railroad's chair in town a few days later.
Even months later, the "boss" still hadn't got it:
Another example, is the aftermath of the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf ... Sometimes, leaders need to understand that it's not about them:
Also, in many occasions, the "boss" IS NOT be the best spokesperson:
That was clearly a language issue but the reactions were still predictably angry.
Leaders with a social media presence can also put themselves in hot water.
Kenneth Cole did it:
And some guy running for POTUS thinks he's a master of Twitter too:
And that brings us to Donald Trump ... The GOP candidate is a crisis creating machine all on his own.
Defending his positions is a challenge that is also obviously beyond the expertise of his main spokesperson who mixes up historical facts, invents false stories and appears as separated from reality as her boss.
In a crisis (as in politics), confidence and projecting an air of authority is critical ...when your actions result in the opposite ... well, you get this.
So what's a real communicator to do? Here are five things that can help:
- influencing ... know your principal ... understand his/her motivations, demonstrate how your advice can make THEM look better
- coaching ... if you have the experience, you can coach your boss in how to handle the media and other stakeholders in a crisis, how to stick to the message and avoid improvisation
- preparing ... if you do your boss justice, you'll have a solid crisis comms plan ready based on various scenarios, snappy key messages for every audience ...
- repairing ... if your boss comes across as unprepared (or worse, uncaring) you'll do your best to show empathy, knowledge and optimism ... and not make things worse (see above re: Trump and Pierson)
- learning ... you'll use every opportunity to learn from a crisis or even a well handled issue that didn't make it to the crisis stage ... and show your boss how he/she came out a winner ...