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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.

THREE MINUTE DRILL

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.

And,

  • 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.

POWER WORDS

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.

CompetenceInformative
CreativityInspirational
DignityKind
DistinctionLeadership
EnthusiasmMemorable
EthicalMotivating
GenerousPerceptive
HumbleVirtuous
IdealisticVisionary
InclusiveWise
InfluentialWorthy
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?

Really?

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

Validation:

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:

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:

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.”

Crisis Management vs. Readiness
Stop Being the Chicken Little of Your Organization

One of the more disabling pieces of baggage that many public relations practitioners carry is being known behind their backs as the Chicken Little in their organization. Getting management and managers attention by referring to any hiccup as a crisis.

The truth is managers and leaders are problem resolvers and issue managers. In every organization, there are bushels of these events active at any given time. But crises are very rare.

I define crisis as a show-stopping, people-stopping, product-stopping, reputation-redefining event that creates victims and/or explosive visibility. The most important word being victims. Problems can be serious, problems can be debilitating, and problems can be distracting, but true crises in any environment, even the most challenging ones, are extremely rare and always produce victims. No victims, no crisis.  

My advice learned as one of the most important lessons that came out of 9/11. 9/11 actually changed the crisis management vocabulary and security, police work, and preparation work. The operative word became Readiness. Readiness is a management word. Crisis management is the PR word designed to get management’s attention and probably a budget for doing something. Hence, the reputation for being Chicken Little after, “The sky is falling” fable. (There’s a similar fable in every culture I have worked in.)

Readiness is Strategic Management Concept

If everything is a crisis then there are no crises. Readiness is self-explanatory and starts productive conversations, triggers more strategic questions, as well as, holds management’s attention and accountability.

Yes, it’s hard to avoid using crisis as a management attention-getter. Trust me when I tell you that it is one of the biggest turn-offs in the relationship that communicators and public affairs staff functions in the organization have with their bosses.

How to Approach Your Boss About Readiness
A Story with a Big Lesson

Let me also emphasize a lesson I learned very early in my career. I gave a speech in Florida to about 200 top security officers in major corporations. When I returned to my Minneapolis office there were easily a couple dozen messages which clearly came from attendees at this conference. My first thought was that I had messed up and said something that irritated or agitated people in the audience or the host organization. But among the names were two or three people that I knew, so I called them. And was I ever surprised.

 The first person I called, Bill, the Chief Security and Intelligence Officer of a Fortune 50 company answered his phone, as he always did, and rather sheepishly I said, “I have all these messages, you were at the meeting, what did I say that is causing my phone to ring off the hook.” Bill said, “I don’t know about the others, but I think you have revived my career with a single sentence.”, “What was that sentence?” I sort of begged. He responded by telling me that, “When you have a concept, especially a really good concept that could involve the survival of the institution and its leadership, go and see the boss first before you write anything down and talk it over with him or her.”, “That single sentence explained why I felt I was failing at my career as a crucial advisor to my boss.” “He would say no immediately or would simply forget what we were talking about.”

He continued, “Typically if I’m going to propose an idea or want to suggest something, I developed a short paper on the subject with some facts, data, and perhaps a couple of suggestions about how to start, and a timeline of expected events.” “My intention was to answer all the likely questions on the first pass.”

“I thought I was being a good staff person”, he continued, “but the truth is I can now see that it comes across as though I thought of everything necessary, the boss has little room to think it through on his own besides what bosses do for a living is decide things fast.” “Then you said this well-prepared approach is often viewed as evidence that you don’t trust the boss to successfully carry out your ideas.”

“You reminded all of us that bosses exist to make the crucial decisions. On major issues they like to be in on it from the start, even before that first exploratory memo is in their inbox.” And then you said, “What bosses appreciate are action options rather than “solutions”.” The Three Minute Drill.

Suggesting options for their consideration is a powerful way of demonstrating that you are working for them rather than yourself.”

As it turns out, that is exactly why everyone else called. They were surprised to hear me say, “Learn to avoid staff work that gets too far ahead of the person who runs the business.” This is a common error among most staff functions.

Staff tend to think it’s generally smart to show how ready we are, by proposing complete ideas. We fail for reasons including lack of trust in a senior manager “to get it” and follow through. Staff fear, of course, is that the boss will say no. The goal always is to leave the meeting with the request for some preliminary thoughts on what we discussed as opposed to, “I’ll think about it.” Which means, of course, you will never hear about it again. People who run successful organizations routinely make other important decisions quickly. They have no time to let ideas pile up. Trusted Strategic Manifesto Link.

Readiness is a critical management activity. It is also a highly strategic activity. Two things most of us in staff functions need to be associated with.

Problems happen often in large numbers every day in organizations. But, if it’s people-stopping, product-stopping, show-stopping, reputation-redefining, or circumstance that can create victims and/or explosive visibility, that is worth an executive’s attention. Lucky for most of us they rarely happen, but we’re busy getting ready to manage other problems in the meantime.

You might find it useful to review the Trusted Strategic Advisors Manifesto, part of which talks about the six mistakes trusted advisors need to avoid making. Especially error #5, pushing ideas that the boss will never buy.

Waging Peace and Winning Means Sitting Down with Critics, Bloviators, Bellyachers, and Back Bench Complainers…Why?
…Because That’s Just the Way it is.

One of the more frequent questions I get in a variety of forms, temperatures, and skepticism is about sitting down with the enemy. “I was wondering whether you think it’s a good idea for us to sit down with a group of people who are the equivalent of the chain-themselves-to-trees people, who have a list of demands which are in some cases reasonable and in most cases impossible.”

The short answer to the question of engaging with these who bother, disturb, denigrate, and disparage you, is yes. 

Too many managements today still look at this idea as something to avoid, unnecessary, onerous, chicken, shameful, and raises the eyebrows and ire of their cohorts from business school or the business community.

Lesson #1: Resolution Only Comes When the Victims are Satisfied

Controversy, conflict, confrontation, and complexity are resolved only when you get everybody possible to a table at the earliest possible time. Keep coming to the table until settlement magically happens, when the victims are satisfied.

In civil litigation, as a non-lawyer adviser, I often recommend dividing a case into the litigation part and the settlement part. Both proceed independently at the same time. Work to establish a mechanism at the earliest possible time to engage and involve the worst of your critics, the harshest of your enemies, especially the victims. Courts always support settlement strategies.

The litigation part can pursue victory or vindication in court after much required preparation and procedure. The settlement part begins by asking a simple question of the victims, “What would it take to settle this matter…what do you really want?” Find out, settle, and win.  

Lesson #2: Failing to Take the Step of Direct Reconciliation, Resolution, Exploration, and Discussion Revictimizes the Victims and Compromises Your Credibility.

Whatever the case, whether there is litigation involved or not, you must meet with those affected – or make serious attempts to do so. In every culture I’ve worked in, when there is contention, reasonable people ask why the contenders haven’t been invited or compelled to sit down and talk. Step up. You have to try, even if the outcome, at first, seems fruitless, which is as likely as not. Yes, you have to sit down if possible because your own supporters need to know that you have tried. You will be criticized by some of your supporters for doing so, for lots of really stupid reasons, but still, you must make the effort.

Yes, it is really hard to sit down and work these things out. Peace ultimately involves face-to-face contact, asking the simple question, “What will it take to settle this matter…what do you really want?”

The foundation of your success is your preparation for these face-to-face meetings. Your preparation is going to include developing key documents that you can post that directly comment, correct, or clarify (CC&C) what others are saying, or advocating about you.

If your critics refuse to meet, post the documents so those who care about you and your goals know of your efforts. If your critics advocate things that are different than that which you expect or have experienced, prepare another CC&C post contrasting their statements and comments against what you expected or experienced.

Take good notes…they do. Send out and post additional communications that continue to clarify, correct, or comment on their postures, purposes, assertions, and allegations. Clearly, you need a platform, find one. So much transpires on a variety of platforms these days. You might establish your own platform. Which is what I usually recommend.

Failure to take these aggressively appropriate and timely approaches is why good people lose. It takes real work and discipline to succeed.

Good People Lose Because They are Not as Committed to Winning as Those Who Oppose are Committed to Defeating Them.

Actually, the negative behaviors by those who oppose benefit us because these negative behaviors and statements give us a platform for our views, ideas, and rebuttal. Good people like to whine about people attacking them, but whining is neither strategic nor successful. There is nothing sillier and sadder than a whiny do-gooder, who is losing.

Yes, but Why?

However noble your cause, you are the one who will have to prove why, how, and what you do matters and is essential every day. Your opposition just has to repeatedly claim or allege something you fail to answer. To be right, to prevail, you need to engage, realizing the truth of these simple questions:

Question 1: Why do good people and good works have to defend themselves and to justify their actions and beliefs? Becausethat’s just the way it is.

Question 2: When do good people doing good get some credit for what they do? Why? From whom? For what? Becausegood people can speak for themselves modestly, humbly, respectfully…that’s just the way it is.

Question 3: How good do good people and their good works have to be to get some credit or a good defense? Depends on how convincing and persuasive the good people and their support base can be on their own behalf.

Question 4: When do we start to manage our own destiny? When we stop waiting for someone else to do it for us. They don’t exist. They never show. The “other guys” are always waiting in the wings to do it for you. Manage your own destiny, or someone else will. Because…that’s the way it is.

Doing good is hard and getting harder… In reality, seems even the best idea gets an antagonist or adversary to prove its value. Look around. No matter what the culture is, it’s good vs. anger, sometimes evil; conservatives vs. liberals; liquid soap vs. bar soap; my truth vs. another’s truth; my data vs. your data; my vaccine vs leave me alone. That’s just the way it is.

There’s Always Someone Out There
Ready to Manage Your Destiny for You.

Sitting down with your critics and naysayers time and time again is actually the crucial strategy for resolution. Yes, the moment you sit down with opponents, you will be criticized by many of those around you. Your friends are going to ask, “What are you thinking?” Fail to sit down and many in your own base will question and reject you faster than your opponents and so-called friends.

Fail to sit down and your mom is going to ask you why you haven’t reached out. She will remind you of what she taught you!

To get to agreement requires contention reduction. Why leave getting face-to-face to the end of a struggle when you could win or lose much faster? Start with face-to-face and win earlier because you answer questions and keep finding better answers; stop whining and start winning.

If you find yourself in a serious game, get prepared for serious opposition.

The Final Lesson: Serious Whining and Suffering are Individual Activities About Which No One Cares but Those Who are Suffering

You’ll suffer alone, whine alone, and lose alone.

Becausethat’s just the way it is.