10 Bad, and Intentional, Leadership Behaviors and Decisions That Corrode and Seriously Damage Community Relationships

If you are a senior staffer or a particularly precocious junior staffer reading this, you’ll recognize these negative intentional leadership behaviors and decisions. Like many of you, I’ve been in the room with senior leadership countless times when the most unbelievable and often unrealistic, to say the least, discussions have occurred. Really smart people made decisions they knew were bad but did them anyway, out of frustration, irritation, spite, or getting even.

Why do decisions like this happen so frequently? I think there are five reasons:

  1. The “I’m the smartest guy/gal in the room” syndrome. (Generally from business school grad).
  2. The only things that matter are the things you can actually count (compassion avoidance, insensitivity towards people, victims, injured or abused, living systems, rivers, lakes, forests, and species).
  3. Anything emotional is to be avoided, “I don’t want to look like a sissy to my peers.”
  4. No accommodation of or to negative voices because noticing them and their groups, ideas,  or troublemakers, don’t deserve it.
  5. Intentional disrespect.

The reason I raise these behaviors and decisions in this way is that far too often we find ourselves as chief staff advisors failing to make a potent and powerful case against these behaviors and decisions. But each one of these, if carried out, invariably becomes extraordinarily expensive, reputationally harmful, often requiring long-term rehabilitation with concessions you would never have been forced to make had better decisions been made in the first place, and intentionally bad decisions avoided.  

Here are seven of the most toxic.

Seven Toxic Intentional Leadership Behaviors and Decisions That Are Disabling, Trust Busting, and Damaging to Community Cooperation And Support

  1. Failure to be truthful with communities.
    • This is done more by intentional information omission and outright lying.
  2. Failure to be forthcoming with communities.
    • This is mostly because management feels communities don’t deserve to have all of the information; “they haven’t earned it.” “Don’t know what to do with it.”
  3. Failure to trust communities with sufficient information to decide.
    • “It’s just a handful of angry people, powerless but irritable.” – Famous last words
  4. Failure to be open and engaging with the community.
    • Reflects a fundamental lack of respect for anyone who disagrees, who can’t be fired.
    • “We have been good corporate citizens responding to all requests and rules and therefore have earned a social license to do what we want and get what we want.”
  5. Failure to accept or invite community oversight, regulations, restrictions, and supervision.
    • What… am I crazy? “There are already too many meddlers.” Lexicon of Control
  6. Failure to answer all the questions that are being and will be asked.
    • Management: “You must be kidding. Who’s got the time for all of this? Communities don’t need to know half of the information you’re proposing to give away.”
    • “We will determine what the community needs to know.”
  7. Failure to continuously seek, ask for, and deserve community permission to operate.
    • Management asks, “Isn’t this what the permit process and politics are all about?”
    • Why doesn’t community dissent and controversy end once we get the permit and have answered all the most important political and public questions?

Your Success Manifesto fo Community Trust Building, Permission Enabling, Cooperation Fostering, Public Support Generation

  1. Be truthful with communities.
    • Provide more information than requested.
  2. Be forthcoming with communities.
    • Communities deserve to have all of the information; because they are entitled to get it. The community wants those affected to have the information, all of it.
  3. Trust communities with sufficient information to decide.
    • Make sure angry people, opposing people, and those who need to hear, have the power, to be heard.
  4. Be open and engaging with the community.
    • Reflect, respect, and accommodation to anyone who disagrees. Protect and prevent antagonists and opponents from being retaliated against or fired.
    • Work every day to reestablish the community’s permission for you to do what you need and want, get what you need and when you need and want it.
  5. Accept and invite community oversight, regulations, restrictions, control, and supervision. Lexicon of Control
    • The more control you accept, the more power you have to actually manage your own destiny.
  6. Answer all the questions that are being asked, will be asked, should be asked, and especially questions that you wish they would ask you.
    • Management must make time for this! Stop asking when questions will have to be answered. You stop answering questions when people stop asking them.
    • Only communities know what they need to know. Suggest and provide more.
    • It is the community that decides what the community wants and needs to know. Comply. Better yet, anticipate and provide.
    • The greatest management communication mistake is failure to prepare for, introduce, and effectively answers all the questions you wish would be asked of you.
  7. Continuously seek, ask for, and earn community permission to operate.
    • Be prepared for community dissent and controversy to continue even after you get and meet all the conditions for permits, licenses, and truly answer all of the political and other public questions.
    • Management asks, “When will these angry and destructive people stop going after us and trying to increase restrictions on our operations? Every victory you have infuriates your opponents. The more successful your efforts the tougher the opposition becomes.
    • Start with the knowable, get the getable, do the doable, understand the understandable, keep this positive pressure on, and increase it where you can.

Remember the first of Lukaszewski’s 12 Axioms of Crisis Avoidance/Survival: “Neither the media, your toughest opponents, smartest critics, nor the government knows enough to defeat you. Defeat is almost always the work of uninformed or overconfident, overly optimistic bosses, co-workers and associates; well-meaning but uninformed friends, relatives, or from dysfunction in an organization.”

Boeing, the Poster Child for Intentionally Bad Decision Making

At this writing in mid-2024, the most obvious current example of these corrosive behaviors is, in a single word: Boeing. To put it mildly, this company is in extraordinary turmoil. Its current Chairman is leaving, under duress, and is going to leverage a gigantic payout. The public is losing trust in this company. Doors have blown off Boeing planes in flight.  Boeing continues to fail more rigorous inspections by Federal Safety and Production Agencies.

The company’s overwhelming problems are making it vulnerable to the ever-present international competition.

The weight of all of these problems has slowed Boeing’s deliveries to the lowest point in five years. The company’s continuing history of safety issues spectacularly and fatally demonstrated by the crashes of the two fully loaded Boeing 737 Max plane crashes in Ethiopia and one in the Javis Sea these disasters still haunt the company. The revelations recently that the company has intentionally put delivery, production, and productivity over safety and public confidence. Legal issues are multiplying. A recent survey found that many Americans are willing to pay more to avoid flying on Boeing. Leadership failure has lead most often to devastating degradation of company progress and reputation. There are no more corners to cut.

Another huge embarrassment, on the 30th of May 2024 Boeing’s long awaited and much  troubled manned space vehicle failed to launch being stopped in the last thirty seconds by a computer warning. Since the end of the American Space Program, Elon Musk’s rocket company has launched something like 85% of all American projects being put it into space. 48 hours after the emergency halt of the Boeing space vehicle launch, the company is unable to explain why this occurred. Remember one of my most favorite crisis axioms, bad news always ripens badly, things only get worse before they get better. Boeing’s situation is living proof with this action.  

No one at Boeing has been indited, but investigations are ongoing.

Let’s Find Out Who the Chronically Bad, Poorly Lead, and Intentionally Clumsy Company’s Are.

Question for you. What company’s organizations and business leaders would you include in this list of chronically bad and intentional, willful leaders? Send me your ideas and suggestions about the candidates, company’s, and circumstances in a hundred words or less and we’ll discuss them specifically in an upcoming newsletter or broadcast.

Please use my direct email address (jel@e911.com) to submit your examples.

How Leaders Think and Operate
Part One:

Inspiration: To influence CEO, leadership and management behavior, we need to know who these people are, how they think and decide things, and where we can have the most useful influence.

Welcome to CEO Coaching Notes, an ongoing series of thoughts, ideas, and practical advice to both help and influence leaders and those around them deal with the opportunities, questions, problems, and situations they are facing and will face in the future. This first section is as titled on how leaders think and operate. It’s important to have a sense of how this happens and to be able to discipline and offer advice quickly when assistance is needed or helpful.

            This first section on my philosophy is crucial to those I advise understanding me and where I come from. This collection of ideas helps set the stage for an ongoing relationship of candor, openness, productive and spontaneous activities, and thinking.

            Everything I talk about is designed to open the minds of those I work with to other possibilities and options for action. Thinking, planning, and using this approach ensures that I’m using their time to their best advantage based on what they need to know, do, think about, and forecast. We begin with the CEO because some people say it’s their bus to drive and our job to help them do a better job. If these observations raise questions, and I hope they do, then simply drop me a line at jel@e911.com with a comment and I will respond. Include your phone number and I will call you back.

My Philosophy

  1. All problems are management problems before they are any other kind of problem.
  2. All management problems are leadership challenges. No victims, no crisis.
  3. A crisis is a problem that creates victims. People, animals, living systems.
  4. Leadership resides with those who can maintain more supporters than detractors.
  5. Staff functions exist and are funded by leadership to help leaders do their jobs better.
  6. Managers and leaders want to make the decisions…often based on the advice they receive from Trusted Strategic Advisors.

Precautions for Advisors

  • Remember who’s driving the bus (the boss is.)
  • Staff functions have limitations.
  • Change the changeable; do the doable; know the knowable.
  • Understand the limitations of leadership. Be helpful. Anticipate shortcomings.
  • Develop a sensible behavior change strategy.
  • All leaders and managers think they are good to great communicators.

This Program Will Help You To:

  • Truly know the boss (and your boss)
  • Get heard earlier on serious issues
  • Understand CEO survival patterns
  • Influence important decisions when crisis occurs
  • Know what motivates leaders to act in crisis, and when they misbehave
  • Succeed if your boss is not the CEO
  • Identify the words and actions on the part of management that can significantly worsen a crisis situation and, conversely, the ones that can move the situation toward a more satisfactory resolution.
  • Overcome management objections to crisis readiness.
  • Master the skills required to be a verbal visionary and valued counselor.

My Assumptions

  1. You are the table.
  2. You recognize what you need to do to be trusted.
  3. You are willing to change yourself to get there.
  4. YOYO (You’re On Your Own, because you are)

Leadership Patterns that Influence Readiness

  • Very few management problems are crises.
  • All crises are management and leadership problems. (problems that produce victims are crisis.)
  • Readiness is a management term (crisis management is a PR term) avoid PR terms.
  • Readiness is the goal. Readiness is a primary management responsibility.

CEO Survival Forecast

  • CEOs are leaving faster.
  • Tenures are more intense, as well as shorter.
  • Higher profiles require more strategic guidance and counsel.
  • The first 100 days remain critical to success. Failures among first-time CEO’s are increasing.
  • Prosecution and persecution of top executives will continue.

CEO Communication Trends

  • Non-business issues – globalization, adverse legislation, and anti-corporate activism – are intruding on management. These interruptions seem soft and distractive, often requiring moral rather than monetary or business judgment.
  • Continuing scandals mean CEOs are being measured to some degree on their morality and belief systems.
  • In both the U.S. and in Europe, career-defining risks for CEOs are increasing.
  • The avg. tenure of U.S., Canadian, and European CEOs is decreasing, yet most organizations still plan further into the business cycle than the current CEO is likely to survive.
  • One in four CEOs of major British businesses (sales over £500 million) leaves their job ahead of schedule. This rate continues to increase.
  • CEO average ages are declining.
  • Becoming a CEO is no longer a permanent appointment or final job assignment.

Inside the Mind of the Chief Executive

  • Huge compensation packages allow CEOs to drop out before they are fired or forced out.
  • Even when they are forced out or fired, they get a large compensation package.
  • Compensation has become the measure of success.

The New Top Executive Agenda

  • With the exponential rise of social networking and 24/7 web activism, more individuals than ever are watching, counting, and publicizing whether what bosses do and say matches what they have done and said. Troubles often get announced in advance in these new mediums, platforms well before legacy media.
  • Career-defining risks for CEOs and senior executives are increasing.
  • The typical CEO will spend 40% or more of their time on non-operating issues like:
Adverse legislation
Angry Neighbors
Anti-corporate activism
Compensation controversy
Employee distrust
Globalization / Political Sensitivities
Internal Allegations
Internal confusion about goals
Irritated regulators
Legislative Initiatives
Personal Attacks
Weaponized issues

The CEO’s World

  • All training is on-the-job
  • Limited freedom to act / decide (often a surprise to new CEO’s)
  • Lonely
  • No school
  • No educational track (the job is the education)
  • Often last to know
  • Only one such position in any organization
  • The Mom Factor (often closer to many CEO’s than Dad)

CEO Surprises

  • More of an influencer than a doer
  • Decisions based on learned details, rather than in depth knowledge.
  • Being observed and monitored by so many, so oftern (can seem creepy)
  • The buck, still stops with the CEO
  • The difficulty of figuring out what to do next

CEO Success Secrets

  • Focus
  • Limited objectives
  • Supportive people
  • Communicate constantly
  • Fix fast
  • Change fast
  • Finish projects that can be finished
  • Stopping failing projects before disaster strikes

The Five Main Tasks of the CEO

  1. Soft intrusions
    a. Employee negotiations
    b. Navigating negative news
    c. Corporate embarrassment
  2. Hard obstacles
    a. Massive stock price drop
    b. Major product defect or problem
    c. Employee walkouts/Internal job actions
  3. Nagging problems
    a. Activist attacks
    b. Rumors
    c. Unfounded and founded allegations
  4. Career-defining moments
    a. Major organizational disruptions
    b. Criminal investigations
    c. Unethical behavior
    d. High profile product failures
  5. A vision of the future, the strategies to get there, and moving ahead when the headwinds are blowing.

What is the Manifesto* for Your Practice?

What are the Ethical, Practical Principles and Behaviors That Guide and Drive Your Practice?

The Seventh Discipline of the Trusted Strategic Advisor

My career has been more than forty years of refining what I stand for, always searching for the truth first and helping others do the same. I share this list with anyone interested, but especially those I’m advising. In order to be a truly successful Trusted Strategic Advisor, you need to teach what you coach in ways that help CEO’s absorb what you are talking about and do, in many cases, what you advise. You need to teach you right along with the advice you give.

This list keeps growing and so will yours. Start building your own practice manifesto now.

What will your practice manifesto look like? Here’s mine to get you started.

*A public declaration of intentions, opinions, objectives, or motives. – dictionary.com

Jim’s Practice Manifesto

  1. Seek the truth first, find ethical, civil, and decent pathways, promptly and urgently.
  2. Truth is generally best expressed in positive declarative language and consists of 15% facts and data and 85% emotion and point of reference.

    There is a mistaken notion (from business schools) that the more facts presented the more likely the truth will emerge. The exact opposite is true. The more facts and data are released, the more confused people get, but more importantly, burying people, especially victims, in facts and data makes them feel stupid or foolish, and they get angrier and more powerful. The challenge of truth is understanding the emotionality of truth and especially the fact that there are different points of reference on every issue or question. In fact, there is a different point of reference for every witness, every victim, and everyone affected. Each of those points of reference is valid and true from the perspective of the person involved.

    The challenge of truth is always finding significant and important factual information but understanding, interpreting, and sometimes negotiating with people whose point of reference is very different from others involved in the same issue, situation, or problem.

    Management often uses facts and data as a defense against having to interpret, explore, and explain emotions. The more facts are used as weapons, the bigger your loss will be when you finally settle the issue.
  3. Use truth-hiding and truth-confusing techniques very carefully. Storytelling, metaphors, allegories, euphemisms, “ . . .in other words”, similes, and analogies rarely reveal, explore, or produce truth. Remember, these techniques are frequently used by liars. If something is a half-truth, it is a whole lie.
  4. Avoid known patterns of failure: silence: stalling: denial: victim-confusion: testosterosis: arrogance: searching for the guilty: fear of the media: whining. All of these behaviors build suspicion and anger.
  5. Ask better, tougher, more constructive questions than anyone else.
  6. Be 15 minutes early, or first.
  7.  Avoid surprises, forecast trouble (have a readiness plan in hand).
  8. Think before you edit, put your pencil down. Question all edits. Resist mindless editing. Seek simple, sensible, constructive explanations and information. Effective editing makes the truth easier to see, often in fewer words.
  9. Constantly challenge the standard assumptions and practices of our profession; build its importance, enhance the ability of all practitioners to better serve others from their perspective. Raise your hand. Speak up. Break the silence. Reveal the truth.
  10. Be productive, do the doable; know the knowable; get the getable; arrange the arrangeable, avoid the dumb and troublesome decisions and actions you know you should. Make a list. Remember. If you make a bad decision, never repeat it.
  11. Say things others fear to say, voice them first. Start with what is obvious and likely true. All crises ripen badly. In crises, things will always get worse before they can get better.
  12. Say less but make it more important. Write less but make it more meaningful and memorable.
  13. Go beyond what those you advise and those you work with already know or believe.
  14. Intend to make constructive, positive ethical differences every day. Keep a log.
  15. Intentionally look at every situation and circumstance from different, constructive, and surprising perspectives.
  16. Look out for the real victims. Always put victim interests first. Fail to do this and the victims will bury you.
  17. Remember, it’s your boss’s “bus.” They get to drive it wherever they want. Your role on “the bus” is to help the driver drive better. If you don’t like it, or them, can’t change it, or them, hop off, find another bus, or find and drive your own.
  18. Stop trying to save the day. The biggest staff mistake is to hang around in the vain belief that you can redeem yourself or, change how someone powerful does things, believes, and behaves. When they are done asking you and listening to you, find a new bus. When they have an opportunity to look a new direction, they surprise you by hiring an outsider and then you’re gone.
  19. Remember the loyalty exception: If whatever is happening on your bus is illegal, immoral, monumentally stupid, what are you doing there anyway? Leave that bus today and find a better one!
  20. Be aware that every issue, question, concern, or problem is a management/leadership issue, question, concern or problem (rather than a crisis) before it is any other kind of issue, question, concern or problem (including public relations).
  21. Start where leadership or management IS or you will end up in different places and fail.
  22. Strive for simple, sensible, sensitive, positive, constructive, compassionate, helpful, honorable, and ethical action options. All other approaches lead to trouble.
  23. The most usable advice format for leaders and managers to choose from is options. Always provide your advice as 3 options: doing nothing (0% option), doing something (100% option), doing something more (125% option). Let the person whose career is on the line choose the options and make the key decisions. That’s their job. Your job is to identify plausible, ethical, sensible, doable options from which managers and leaders can choose.
  24. Be Inconsistent. Inconsistency is the greatest virtue of strategy. The strategist’s greatest value is intentional inconsistency. If all you can provide are things the people around you already know, why are you there?
  25. Avoid, prevent, or stop Evil, the increasingly intentional harming of innocents and people without power. Innocents include vulnerable populations, animals and living creatures, and living systems (forests, bodies of water, the earth). (See V. below.)

My Fundamental Beliefs

  1. All questionable, inappropriate, unethical, unconscionable, immoral, predatory, improper, victim-producing, and criminal behaviors are intentional. Adults chose specifically to do wrong.
  1. All ethical, moral, compassionate, decent, civil, and lawful behaviors are also intentional.
  1. The choice is always clear and always yours.
  1. Those who lead with genuine integrity, civility, respect, decency, humility, and compassion are likely to be more ethical, and trustworthy.
  1. Unconscionable intentions, behaviors, actions, and decisions that vilify, demean, dismiss, diminish, humiliate, cause needless but intentional pain, express anger and irritation, demand or bully, are mean, negative, insulting, disrespectful, disparaging, tone-deaf, without empathy, that intentionally injure, accuse, overbear, are punitive, restrictive, exceed the boundaries of decency, civility, and integrity, are, in my judgement, all unethical.
  1. Teaching what I can do, how I can help, the perspectives I bring, this is the substance of the seventh discipline, teaching the CEO how to best utilize my skills and services. If it doesn’t work or only works for a limited time, be prepared to move on, because they may have for any number of reasons.

What About You?

What are the principles that guide your practice, your thinking, your actions? What does your practice manifesto look like? I am always open to conversations about all these ideas. Contact me at jel@e911.com, subject line: “Ethical and Practical Principles”. If you do write or call me, I will send you my powerful one-page “Model Personal Profile, The purposes and passions of my life”.

How to Get More Invitations to the C-Suite and Be Heard Part 2

Be Quick, Be Careful, Be Candid, Have a Management Mindset

My practical and empirical knowledge combined with the research of others demonstrates consistently that bosses expect these crucial attributes and behaviors from trusted strategic advisors: 

  • Real-Time Advice: Typically, staff advisors come to listen to their leadership then, head back to their office to figure out how to help them or if they can. The trusted strategic advisor gives cogent advice on the spot without having to leave the room. 
  • Candor: Truth with an attitude delivered immediately. Something that Public Relations practitioners have difficulty with as evidenced by the recent research by Dr. Marlene Neill revealing ten troublesome issues that practitioners face every day. If your reaction to this definition is, “Jim, you don’t know my boss!” That’s probably true, but it’s time to leave the organization if your boss has a problem with candor.  
  • Coach at Every Opportunity: This is really what one of the greatest values we provide to those we advise. Coaching rather than having a specific answer for things, is the art of options, and suggestions, that is offering three approaches to respond to an issue or question before management.
  • Consequence Analysis, Being Insightful: This is the trusted strategic advisors greatest challenge, to be more than relevant, and to be able to comment on much broader areas than just what the news media is going to be doing or thinking.
  • Knowing What is Important: Senior people, contrary to their behavior, are interested in input on what they should be dealing with and should be thinking about or in fact are dealing with or thinking about. How does one find this out? Ask and keep asking. Be an intelligence collector and sharer.
  • Early Warning: Another value of the trusted strategic advisor is their knowledge of what’s happening throughout the organization. Rather than being the first to acknowledge what others have revealed or spoken about, your credibility is really built on being the first person to alert management to issues and questions they need to be concerned about. When I asked top leaders what the worst problem is they face every day, almost unanimously it is, “Being the last to know.” The trusted strategic advisor worth their salt, skips all those filters, sidetracks, and barriers to information and brings intelligence information immediately to the attention of top people.
  • What To Do Next: Seems ironic but one of the great problems in leadership is knowing what to do and what the next steps are. In dozens and dozens of conversations over the years with leaders and managers who were having difficulties, offhand I would say 90% of the problem came from really not knowing what to do next and not being able to get some reasonable advice on what those actions and decisions and problems should be or are. This questions actually is at the top of every leaders list, “What the heck do I do now?” One of the great techniques of the trusted strategic advisor is the, “What if” exercise. What if this happened? What if that happened? What would you do? What would you say? What would you decide? What is the first step you should take? If you can play a role in the, “What’s next?” game. You’ll be among the first to be invited to every important meeting.

Now, let’s talk about the current reality.  

The purpose of examining this list is a way of analyzing yourself, how you operate, what you think about yourself, and how you approach the task of being a trusted strategic advisor.

This is hard but please listen up.

Public Relations tends to rely on what I call the Liar’s List of communication tactics. This is the tendency to avoid positive declarative, definitive, evidence-supported communication in favor of nine alternative communication strategies:

  • Allegories
  • Analogies
  • Euphemisms
  • False Comparisons
  • Lies
  • Metaphors
  • Similes
  • Stories
  • Verbal Translation, “In other words…”.

Each of these techniques are obvious attempts to state anything but the simple plain truth. This is the list liars use by those with whom we disagree or who are disagreeable. The two most abused of these techniques are metaphors, explaining something and using a substitute reality, and stories, which unlike life, have obvious beginnings, middles, and ends, usually attention-getting opening, statements, and a conclusion in the form of a lesson, message, conclusion, punch-line, insight, moral, or self-evident truth. If only life would behave this way.

The whole problem with stories is that they are completely artificial (euphemism for lies). Life does not have a sensible beginning, middle, or end, A Situation rarely starts with snappy opening headlines and rarely concludes with the definitive statement of purpose, accomplishment, or an obvious ending. They are fabrications. The truths of stories are almost always fabricated. So now you’re asking me, “What if a story is half true…?” Half a truth is always all lie.

Too often, one of the biggest values senior executives can count on us for is our skill in creating an alternative universe of information about something that may be difficult, unpleasant, or unwanted to communicate. That is intentional untruthfulness.

The goal has to be candor.

Be More Careful

  1. Our function has a reputation for avoiding conflict and candor. This is one of the reasons we’re often left out of important meetings at senior levels. If the issue is important, management is still taught to arrive at important decisions through conflict and aggressive argument. If that makes you feel uncomfortable it shows quickly and without mentioning anything to you, you will be automatically excluded from meetings where intensive discussions take place. Advising leaders requires a tough stomach.
  2. Also, we tend to avoid naming what we see, or worse, we find ways to euphemize and therefore avoid getting the benefits of candor and clarity. Anger, even violent anger being described as, “Tempers boiling over…” or, “Softening harsh language. Truth is usually blunt and hard.
  3. Our inability or unwillingness to accurately and dispassionately assess skills, competence, strengths, and weaknesses of other members of the senior team and staff. We don’t have much of a taste for evaluating the skills of others the way senior executives must. Most of the major business problems organizations face are created by people in positions of importance. If there’s one thing that most senior leaders need it is staff who can accurately, helpfully, and purposefully assess strengths, weaknesses, shortcomings, skills, apititudes, accessibility, and other attributes of those on the senior team including themselves. If that responsibility tends to make you uncomfortable, you become less valuable in everything else you do for the senior team.
  4. The notion that we are an organization’s conscience. This is a pretty big and important burden. One of these days I hope that someone actually defines or lays out a job description of corporate conscience. The idea seems to work in some organizations. I’ll be writing about this in a future Jim’s Wisdom. Many of those who consider themselves corporate consciences also consider themselves experts in ethics. Sometimes accurate, but often oversimplified.  

Changing the Management Mindset

A number of years ago I was a senior advisor to a fortune company going through a very devastating criminal proceeding. People had died, were injured, the behavior of certain individuals at the company was intentional, several were prosecuted and six went to prison. The Chairman was acquitted during the trial and retired.

The company itself, however, took it’s problems seriously and worked to begin to understand how a company this successful and this important, saving lives every day could get into the mess that they had.

They hired several forensic compliance consultants to interview many employees to get a sense of what employees expected of company leadership during times of crisis. Here is that list. For those of you who act as corporate consciences, I urge you to examine this list and see if you could actually deliver useful advice to senior management based on employee expectations.

Employee Expectations of Leadership During
Emergencies and Tough Times (i.e. All the Time)

a. Find the truth as soon as possible: Tell that truth and act on it immediately.

b. Promptly raise the tough questions and answer them thoughtfully: This includes asking and answering questions yet to be asked or thought of by those who will be affected by whatever the circumstance is.

c. Teach by a truthful parable: Emphasizing wrong-way and right-way lessons.

d. Vocalize core business values and ideals constantly: These include the values and ideals, the ways and behaviors that employees bring to work each day.

e. Walk the talk: Be accessible; help people understand the organization within the context of its values and ideals at every opportunity.

f. Help, expect, and enforce ethical leadership: People are watching; people are counting; people know when there are lapses in ethics causing trust to be broken. When bad things happen in good organizations, it’s those occasional lapses that deepen the troubles.

g. Preserve, protect, defend, and foster ethical pathways to the top of the organization: Constantly identify, explain, explore, and warn about situations where ethical processes can be compromised, especially among executives who are on upward career trajectories.

h. Be a cheerleader, model, and teacher of ethical behavior: Ethical behavior builds and maintains trust. In fact, to have trust in an organization requires that its leaders act ethically constantly.

i. Make values as least as important as profits: Research shows that most people seem to enjoy working more when they are with organizations they respect, people they trust, leadership they can rely on, and who respect them. Wherever you find an organization or company that puts values on the same level as profits, there is often even more loyalty and support because companies who do this sacrifice for principle. Everybody notices and wants to be a part of these kinds of organizations.

j. Be respected: Research also shows that respect is more desired by employees than any number of perks and preferences. Respect is what draws employees back to work each day.

Two Powerful Mantras of Written and Verbal Communication and the Truth About Stories

I learned long ago that fewer rather than more words tend to help understanding, especially of truth.

These examples have been my guiding thoughts as I write most any document or prepare a speech to an audience:

  1. The Ten Commandments, Exodus Version, has 313 words.
  2. The Gettysburg Address had but 272 words.
  3. John F. Kennedy’s, Going the Moon speech at Rice University, 26 words, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and to do the other things not because they are easy but because they are hard.” 
  4. John F. Kennedy, 17 words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
  5. Martin Luther King, 4 words, “I have a dream.” (four words and seven dreams out of a 91-minute presentation in 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial.)
  • Write less but make it more important and more memorable.
  • Say less but make it interesting, powerful, and important.
  • What makes a story valuable is a moral, or a lesson, or key message or purpose, or a self-evident truth.  
  • Use stories carefully. Most stories are never true.

How to Get More Invitations to the C-Suite and Be Heard Part 1

Irritating Habits to Avoid
Better Habits to Improve Your
Access, Influence, Impact, and Inclusion

Having spent the vast majority of my professional career in or very near the C-Suite of my clients, more than 400 companies in 42 years, I had the opportunity to view a wide variety of advice givers to senior people and organizational operators.

It in all candor I have to observe that the profession of public relations is in the middle, to be charitable, of those whose opinions are valued at the highest level of organizations. I wrote and published a book about this in 2009, “Why Should The Boss Listen To You, The 7 Disciplines of the Trusted Strategic Advisor”. © 2009 Jossey Bass Publishing

The subject comes to mind again and again because although I now spend far less time consulting, I still am often engaged at the top levels, after all these years. The irony and reason for this discussion is that while the behaviors of staff professions have improved steadily and striven to become more relevant to the concerns at ever higher operating levels, my profession continues to struggle for attention and once having gotten it the problem of actually being heard, continues.

There are five easily observable, and especially irritating habits to avoid that get in the way of the creative sensitivity and empathetic approaches we always tend to bring to executive decision-making. These higher-value behaviors and experiences are eclipsed by other behaviors that obscure the most important attributes of our profession. Examples of behaviors to avoid include:

1. Timidity and Hesitation – Public relations and communicators tend to speak later, sometimes not at all. If you’re spending time inside the C-Suite, those who are running the place and who requested that you be there are watching, and waiting. If you fail to contribute, you will rarely be invited back.


2. Mindless Editing – When all else fails, it seems the one thing we tend to do automatically is edit anything in sight. Whether it’s a news release, memo, or proposal. We are always marking things up. As advisors to senior people, we fail to realize how annoying this can be. In fact, many of us believe editing is our franchise to be in these meetings. It’s especially irritating to the top level of executives who are generally in those positions because they’re running the place.

I’ve never seen any studies but my assumption based on my experience is that improved understanding, clarity, idea value, and powerful concept improvements are very rare in PR editing. We tend to exchange words that reflect more our limited understanding of the organization or a staff perspective rather than a management perspective. Editing often changes or obscures the truth. Ask if the change proposed preserves or obscures the truth.  

I warn those seeking expanded access, impact, influence, and inclusion wanting to be trusted strategic advisors, “If you are going to hold a pencil in your hand, a better use than editing could be to take notes to remember things to talk about or question, as opposed to the automatic red pen markup. Editing should add significant knowledge or insight. If all you’re doing is word shuffling, or using truth-avoiding techniques like allegories, metaphors, or analogies…stop.”

3. Remember – The vast majority of bosses feel that they are good if not great communicators, important if not gifted writers. That’s why there are crucial questions editors need to address as they pick up the red pen. Does your editing checklist include:

  • Increasing strategic value or insight.
  • Stating the obvious, you should be the first.
  • Add candor, “Truth with an attitude delivered right now.”
  • Simplify and add meaningful specificity. (Reduce the wandering generalities, “We are a great company.”
  • Add inconsistency (A key ingredient of strategy).
  • Add pattern intuition.
  • Reveal new constructive approaches to established norms, tasks, and challenges.


  • Add significant new knowledge or insight to the existing context?
  • Add some facts and data that make the management objectives more powerful, focused, and useful?
  • Add or suggest examples that improve the power, memorability, and importance of the content and context?
  • Provide or develop insight, clarity, moral, bottom-line, lesson, or self-evident truth?

4. Understand your true relationship with those whose language you change. The relationship between leader and communicator is far different than the leader’s relationship with other consultants. The difference is, listening to an accountant, a lawyer, an engineer, a subject-matter expert or a scientist, fields of interest where leaders need these specialized knowledges. When it comes to communication, expect bosses, sometimes everyone in the room, to be mentally debating what you say rather than listen to what you have to teach. This behavior is why we so often feel our conversations and advice-giving is not heard. It isn’t. Often, when you finish explaining, you discover that the boss is just waiting to talk. Repeat yourself.


5. Say things that matter. Move the conversation along constructively. Question, rather than challenge the value of other ideas if you can improve their value or demonstrate more important sensitive or powerful information. Strive to make significant additional points. Abide by three powerful editing rubrics:

  • Say less, but make it more important, surprising.
  • Write less, but make it more interesting, memorable, helpful, insightful, and useful.
  • Go for the truth first.

In Jim’s Wisdom #51 (May ’24 Savvy), I’ll expand further on these irritating habits:

  1. Euphemizing everything. As consultants, we seem to have great reluctance to speak truth to power or to speak truth in any venue.
  2. Reputation we have for avoiding conflict and candor.
  3. Our reluctance to assess the skills and competence, strengths, and weaknesses of colleagues and members of the management team and group, upon executive request.
  4. For some of us, the notion that we can be an organizational conscience.
  5. Reviewing employee ethical expectations of leadership during urgent or emergent situations. 

Happy to talk about any or all of these ideas. Just pick up the phone, (203) 948-7029, text that number, or email jel@e911.com.

Getting Ready to Choose: Darkness or Democracy

The choice for American leadership gets clearer and clearer every day. Your decision will be based on the meaning of the word “greatness”. There are two very different greatness options to choose from in 2024.

American democracy is in crisis. In Chinese, the word crisis is a symbol that has two faces, one face is danger, dark, troubled, fearful, and angry. The other face is bright, hopeful, optimistic, happy, and opportunistic.

That’s the choice in 2024, Dark, Troubled, Angry, Fearful, and Evil Greatness vs. Hopeful, Optimistic, Happy, Competent, and Opportunistic Greatness. 

The Ingredients of Hopeful, Optimistic, Happy, and Competent Greatness

The optimistic face of greatness is illustrated by these words and concepts.

The Ingredients of Angry, Dark, Dangerous, Troubled, Fearful, and Often Evil Greatness
The Evil Greatness Creed
Be Angry, Evil, Every Day, Constantly Frown and Scowl.

Victimize, intimidate, harm the harmless, harass the helpless, hurt, shame the blameless, lie all the time.

Daily Dark Greatness Behaviors
  1. Whine, moan, cry, “I am the Victim.”
  2. Cry, “Doom’s Day is almost here.”
  3. “I am the only one who can prevent Dooms Day and the blood baths to follow.”
  4. “I am not a crook.”
  5. “I am not a racist.”
  6. “I did not have sex with those women.”
  7. Some of my best friends are (pardoned) crooks, dictators, and people loyal only to themselves.
  8. Hate democracy.  
Top Ten Required Daily Dark Greatness Behaviors
  1. Deeds, words, or actions that vilify.
  2. Deeds, words, or actions that use sarcasm to ridicule, damage, demean, dismiss, diminish, or humiliate.
  3. Deeds, words, or actions that are arrogant, causing needless, intentional pain and suffering.
  4. Deeds, words, or actions that intentionally, harmfully, and overbearingly express anger and irritation.
  5. Deeds, words, or actions that are overly demanding and bullying.
  6. Deeds, words, or actions that are just plain mean.
  7. Deeds, words, or actions that insult, intentionally demean, minimize, and marginalize.
  8. Deeds, words, or actions that become emotionally corrosive, disrespectful, and disparaging.
  9. Put forth proposals that are negative, punitive, defensive, and harmfully restrictive on others.
  10. Lie about everything, all the time, careless and constant repetition in the press and new media will make the lies into the truth.
The Choice is Clear and That Choice is Yours Alone to Make

The Definition of greatness you choose in 2024 will set the tone and temperature for American democracy, if it survives the danger, for a long time.

Now is the time to start paying attention.  

Link to Book by Helio Fred Garcia – Words on Fire

Marshall Goldsmith: ‘You Can Be More’

byDan Bigman, editor, Chief Executive. dbigman@ChiefExecutiveGroup.com

Many people consider Marshall Goldsmith the best CEO coach in the world. And in his most recent column for Chief Executive, written with co-author Kelly Goldsmith, he shares one of the best coaching tips he’s ever received—and how you can deploy it successfully while leading your company.

What is it? Simple. Use four challenging words: “‘You can be more!” As the Goldsmiths write: “The greatest return on training and development can come from coaching top performers and encouraging them to be even better, as opposed to ‘fixing’ problem employees who are performing poorly.”

For chief executive officers, “it can be tempting to spend most of your coaching time working with people who have problems. There is nothing wrong with this, but you may be missing a much bigger opportunity.” Instead, they write, try this simple change in your leadership SOP:

  • Change your focus. Make a list of the highest potential leaders in your organization. People who are already doing a great job. They are “on a roll,” hitting the numbers and doing great work. They are not only comfortable; they are feeling great about their performance.
  • Challenge the best. For each one, think how you can deliver a “you can be more” message that might change their life in a positive way. Communicating that “you can be more” to a top performer is the ultimate form of positive recognition. You are recognizing how great they are doing now and communicating your belief that they have the capability of becoming even more.

Finally, they write, never stop applying “you can be more” to yourself. “Never get too comfortable,” they write. “If you want [your team] to become the leaders that they have the potential to be, let them watch you do the same thing.” Read the full column >

— Dan Bigman, editor, Chief Executive. dbigman@ChiefExecutiveGroup.com

Special Note: If you’re looking for insights into the biggest issues facing CEO’s, along with strategic ideas, solutions, and interviews. Consider subscribing to Executive: CEO Briefing.

Subscribe Free at www.chiefexecutive.net, contact@chiefexecutive.net or 203-930-2700

Unfortunately, I Have Some News

R.I.P.  Unfortunately, please!!

If there is one word in our language that needs to be locked away, banned or buried deeply forever somewhere, it is the word   UNFORTUNATELY.

It’s like a gatling gun shooting out confusion in every direction.

Unfortunately, meaning ????

For me?

For you?

For whom?

For us?

About what?

Whose fault?

What’s wrong?

Who’s wrong?

Who’s responsible?

Is there a mistake?


Unfortunately, is a weasel word used when one can’t think of a better, more meaningfully specific word. Unfortunately, always leaves the bad taste of unhappiness in your brain.

Unfortunately,  your plan won’t work.

Unfortunately, the effort fell short.

Unfortunately, the idea was half-baked.

Unfortunately, more effort was needed.

Unfortunately, someone should have thought of that.

Unfortunately, someone needed to find a better word

Unfortunately falls under Lukaszewski Grammar Disaster Law # 1 that states: (Every extra syllable in a word doubles its confusion.), yes? At five syllables, Unfortunately, leads the list of unintelligible, confusing, and negative words.

Stop using it. Think. Avoid the unhappiness and confusion this five-syllable monster imposes. It’s easy, just stop.

Your life and your relationships, those that remain, will last longer.

Unintelligible Negative Words – Negative Power of Negative Language

Avoid Apology Avoidance

Avoid Apology Avoidance

The First Axiom of Successful Victim Management:
Of all things victims want, need, and expect,
an apology is the most important.
The First Corollary to Successful Victim Management Axiom #1:
Failure to apologize when an apology is clearly appropriate
has a huge cost in reputation damage,
prolonged embarrassment,
and often significant unnecessary legal expenses.
Start With What Victims Expect, Need, or Want.

Victims have four powerful needs: validation, visibility, vindication, and most of all extreme empathy/apology. If these four needs are provided promptly, humanely, and with empathy, preferably by the perpetrator—victims will more easily move through their state of victimization and be less likely to call or respond to attorneys or the media, or even to call attention to themselves. The reality is that if the perpetrator fails to meet their needs or does so only partially, victims will find ways to provide for their own needs, often at the perpetrator’s reputational expense. It only takes one victim to be ignored, humiliated, revictimized, or just treated without respect to cause an earthquake of reputational disaster.

If your response starts anywhere else, see first corollary #1 above. 

There is a tragic and all too common failure strategy which happens time and time again. Each of these behaviors, silence, stalling, denial, victim confusion, testosterosis, arrogance, or searching for the guilty and worst of all whining. This is the track to failure, every time. And remember, there is only one career at stake in a crisis, and that’s the person whose running the place.

Profiles in Failure


Victims require validation that they are indeed victims. This recognition is best rendered by the perpetrator. If not, public groups, government, or the news media will do it. Victims will seek it. “I’m not crazy, this really did happen, and someone else is responsible.” Victims rarely sue because they are angry, because their life has been changed dramatically, or because lots of plaintiff attorneys are chasing them around. Generally, victims sue because their situation is not acknowledged and their feelings are ignored, belittled, or trivialized. If they are prevented from publicly discussing what happened to them in meaningful ways, and no one is taking prompt constructive action to prevent similarly situated individuals, animals, or living systems from suffering the same fate, victims will be looking to take more aggressive action.


Visibility involves a platform from which victims can describe their pain and warn others. Preferably, again, the platform should come from the perpetrator or a credible independent organization that can help victims explain what happened for the purpose of both talking it out and convincing others to avoid similar risks or take appropriate preventive action. Some victimization lasts a lifetime. In the case of major disasters, invariably there will be monuments, remembrance sites, even living memorials that victims, survivors, and responders visit, talk about, and rely on. These are permanent visible symbols that recognize, redescribe, and remind the world of the suffering and sacrifice that took place. Name any major disaster dating back hundreds of years, and there is a memorial someplace, perhaps a place of worship, a graveyard, even some extraordinary monuments. And to this day you’ll find tourists, relatives, survivors, and responders at these places, visiting and coping.


Vindication occurs when victims can take credit for any actions the perpetrator takes to ensure that whatever happened to them will never be allowed to happen to others. Victims will describe these remedial actions and decisions as proof that they had an impact and that their suffering will now benefit others because of these new decisions, actions, and practices. Let it happen; let them take credit. It’s part of their rehabilitation and part of the restoration of the perpetrator’s reputation. 

Extreme Empathy and Apology:

Apology has the atomic energy of empathy. If you want to stop bad news almost dead in its tracks, apologize. If you want to generally stop litigation and move to settlement, apologize. If you want to dramatically decrease the newsworthiness of almost any adverse situation, apologize. If you want to demonstrate that you truly care about the victims or the victimization you caused, apologize. While the lawyers may strongly advise against any form of apology because, under law, an apology is an admission, there is a growing body of evidence and data to demonstrate that apologies, promptly and sincerely delivered, virtually eliminate the potential for litigation. This means that while the lawyer’s advice needs to be listened to, if the victim refuses to sue, it may be time to find a lawyer specializing in negotiation, effective settlement options, rather than pursuing a futile effort to deny what the victim needs most— someone taking responsibility through settlement.

How Perpetrators Avoid Apologizing

In my experience, there are five general approaches executives and leaders use to avoid apologizing:

  1. Self-forgiveness
  2. Self-talk
  3. Self-delusion
  4. Lying
  5. Conventional but false “Truths”

You’ll recognize each one by the language these executives use. All apology avoiders deny and deny until they are caught. Then they blame those around them. I always recommend talking about these avoidance excuses, if given the chance, as widely and as soon as the subject, or argument, about apology arises which is usually early in crisis (where there are victims) and reputationally damaging situations. It is crucial that those around leaders and Managers be able to identify, speak up, and call attention to these falsities and fallacies repeatedly as apology denial starts.

The number one excuse is, “The lawyers won’t let me apologize.” Look, lawyers are important consultants, yet they can only advise. It’s always up to the client to decide. In crisis, if you are a trusted strategic advisor, your advice will have sometimes as much weight as the attorney’s, sometimes more. It’s still up to the client to decide. When it comes to apology your leadership advice should at least equal the weight of the lawyers advice. Apologies are leadership decisions. The possible legal consequences are widely known.

The reality is that apology is always a leadership decision, first. Rarely just a legal decision. Wait a minute. Yes, an apology is always an admission whatever the circumstances and has legal implications. That’s one of the reasons we have attorneys.

As always, consult qualified legal assistance in any situation which would appear to have legal implications or where required.

Ingredients of Leadership

The main point of this piece is that leadership, especially top leadership, has far broader responsibilities for making crucial decisions and actions when there are victims: damage or death to people, animals, or living systems. A higher level of compassion, truthfulness, and empathy are required very quickly, to get serious matters settled to the satisfaction of  victims.

Managing the Victim Dimension of Large Scale Disasters

Apology Is The Atomic Energy Of Empathy

Lukaszewski Truism # 2

Let me repeat my definition of apology as the Atomic Energy Of Empathy because, when genuine apologies are given, bad things start to stop happening. Bad decisions are slowed or stopped before they can cause more damage. One of the most common things to stop happening is “get even” behavior and victim-driven litigation. There frequently is litigation over damages, that’s what insurance is for. Following an apology, the tone is different, and settlement becomes the focus, although your legal preparations also continue.

There could still be court time when there is an apology. You will prepare as your lawyer instructs, but here’s another powerful twist. Where there are especially inflammatory or damaging and embarrassing issues, hire a second independent law firm, one specializing in reconciliation and settlement to start settlement talks immediately. No law firm is large enough to litigate and negotiate a settlement at the same time. Give settlement a chance to occur faster than the traditional pretrial defense litigation steps. Besides, the odds of a litigation actually getting to trial in the U.S. are very small (like one out of more than a hundred). Courts encourage and support settlement talks at the earliest possible time. It’s litigators who tend to get in the way.

Note: This is Public Relations Advice. When there are legal
issues and questions, always consult an attorney.

Running settlement negotiations simultaneously with litigation preparation seems to be a novel idea. In the few times when a client I’ve encouraged has used this approach, settlement happened very quickly. High-profile, hugely embarrassing, and revictimizing circumstances were avoided. 

An Effective Apology Has Five Must-Be-Done Components
  1. admission of doing something that hurts of victimizes
  2. explanation of specifically what the harm is/was
  3. discussion of lessons learned and behaviors that will change
  4. direct request for forgiveness from the victims
  5. penance to be performed to atone for the damage done

The Perfect Apology

The Lexicon of Self-Forgiveness

Often, the first refuge of troubled leadership and management.

The Four Apology Avoidance Strategies
Strategy 1. Self-forgiveness:

  • “It’s an industry problem; we are not the only ones.”
  • “This isn’t the first time this has happened, and it won’t be the last time.”
  • “Let’s not blow this out of proportion.”
  • “We couldn’t have known.”
  • “It’s not systemic.”
  • “Don’t our good deeds count for anything?”

*The “Not, Can’t” Warning: Whenever not or can’t appear in a statement, either are almost always preceded or followed by a lie. Avoid using not and can’t at all times.  

Strategy 2. Self-talk:

  • “It’s an isolated incident.”
  • “It couldn’t have been done by our people.”
  • “Not many were involved.” (Injured or Killed)
  • “If we don’t do it, someone else will.”
  • “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”
Strategy 3. Self-delusion:

  • “It’s not our fault.”
  • “It’s not our problem.”
  • “We can’t be responsible for everything.”
  • “It won’t happen again.”
  • “It was only one death, in one place, at one time. Why is everyone so angry?”
  • “Life can’t exist without risk.”

*The “Not, Can’t” Warning: Whenever not or can’t appear in a statement, either are almost always preceded or followed by a lie. Avoid using not and can’t.

Strategy 4. Lying:

  • “I don’t know.”
  • “We’ve never done that.”
  • “It hasn’t happened before.”
  • “It can’t happen again.”
  • “We won’t give up without a fight.”
  • “I’m not a crook.”
  • “I did not have sex with that woman.”
  • “I’m not a racist.”

*The “Not, Can’t” Warning: Whenever not or can’t appear in a statement, either are almost always preceded or followed by a lie. Avoid using not and can’t at all times.

Share these lists with every executive so they know all of these excuses are off-limits. Don’t worry the urge for avoidance is so strong they will begin thinking of new ones immediately. As you hear the new avoidance language, build another list and circulate immediately to executives to re-inoculate them against apology avoidance.

Maybe, have the boss call his/her mom (they probably have already) and ask their advice before trying any of these avoidance strategies. We both know what her advice will be. Take it and have a better life, maybe even keep your job. Only the attorneys will be angry, but apology, humility, and compassion are the real work of leaders when bad things happen, and victims are created.

Note: This is Public Relations Advice. When there are legal issues and questions, always consult an attorney.

Though not an attorney, James (Jim) E. Lukaszewski has been one of America’s most visible corporate go-to people for senior executives and their attorneys when there is trouble in the room or on the horizon. Jim was often retained by senior management to provide personal coaching and executive recovery advice for executives in trouble or facing career-defining moments, problems, and succession or departure issues. Corporate Legal Times once called Jim one of “28 experts to call when all hell breaks loose” and PR Week called him one of 22 “crunch-time counselors who should be on your speed dial in a crisis.”