Behavior Patterns That Precipitate and Perpetuate Trouble
Sometimes the way to prevent organizations from embarrassment, humiliating visibility, enormous litigation, and just plain stupidity is to powerfully illustrate the behaviors and attitudes that lead to catastrophic reputational damage. I call this pattern “Profiles in Failure,” easily recognized behaviors and their predictable impact. If you seek trouble, here’s the path to multitask your way into long-term difficulty.
The most toxic strategy. Makes you look like a perpetrator, whether true or not. There is no credible way to explain silence in the face of crisis. Silence is the most frequent leadership career-killer in crisis situations. It’s why the boss gets fired first.
Speed beats smart every time. Failure to act immediately, even incorrectly, is impossible to explain or apologize for. Doing nothing, even for what appear to be good reasons, is never explainable. #1 response criticism: failure to speak and act promptly.
Refuse to accept the fact that something bad has happened and that there may be victims or other direct effects that require prompt public acknowledgement.
Irritable reaction to reporters, angry neighbors, and victims’ families when they call asking for help, information, explanation, or apology. “Hey! We’re victims too.”
Look for ways to hit back, rather than to deal with the problem. Refuse to give in, refuse to respect those who may have a difference of opinion or a legitimate issue.
Reluctance to apologize, express concern or empathy, or to take appropriate responsibility because, “If we do that, we’ll be liable,” or, “We’ll look like sissies,” or, “We’ll set a precedent,” or, “There will be copycats.”
Search for the Guilty:
Shift blame anywhere you can while digging into the organization, looking for traitors, turncoats, troublemakers, those who push back, and the unconvinceables.
Fear of the Media:
As it becomes more clear that the problem is at least partly real, the media begin asking, “What did you know, and when did you know it?”, “What have you done, and when did you do it?”, and other humiliating, embarrassing, and damaging questions for which there are no really good, truthful answers anymore because you have stalled so long.
Head down, finger in your navel, shuffling around, whining, and complaining about how bad your luck is, about being a victim of the media, zealous do-gooders, wacko-activists, or people don’t know anything; about how people you don’t respect have power; and, that you “don’t get credit” for whatever good you’ve already contributed.
Execute one, some or all of these behaviors in any order and I guarantee trouble, serious reputation problems, and brand damage. By the time you recover – if you do – look for some career-defining moments including involuntary departure, and a new team may replace you and yours.
Over the years, I’ve developed, taught, coached, and advocated a very powerful and helpful communication philosophy. At the same time, this approach defines my ethical approach to life, to work and to trouble. I call these “intentions” because this is how I seek to operate my life, intentionally, every day, teach others to do the same. These intentions build trust, respect, and confidence.
1. Candor – Truth with an attitude, delivered now (the foundation blocks of trust).
Disclose, announce early.
Explain reasoning and reasons.
Discuss options, alternatives considered.
Provide unsolicited helpful information.
2. Openness, accessibility – Be available for the disasters as well as the ribbon cuttings.
Be willing to respond.
Get out front fast.
3. Truthfulness – Truth is 15% facts and data, 85% emotion and point-of-reference.
Point of reference matters more than facts.
Factual overload victimizes people and makes them feel stupid, angrier.
Too many facts irritate and revictimize.
Unconditional honesty, from the start.
Get good at reducing emotionally negative situations, subjects, and people behaviors.
Emotions always outweigh facts.
4. Empathy – Actions that illustrate concern, sensitivity, and compassion.
Actions always speak louder than words.
Act as though it was happening to you or someone you care about.
Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes in any way is literally impossible, from the victim’s perspective. Avoid it.
5. Responsiveness – Answering questions relentlessly in every situation validates your integrity and preserves your reputation.
Every concern or question, regardless of the source, is legitimate and must be addressed.
Answer every question; avoid judging the questioner.
Answer questions as many times as they are asked.
Avoid taking any question personally.
Remain calm, wage peace, build followers and be nice, even in the face of anger or aggressive negativity. You anger and arrogance create plaintiffs.
Answer questions patiently and repetitively until questions stop being asked.
6. Transparency – End the secrets (because important things and stupid stuff always come out).
Our behavior, our attitude, our plans, even our strategic discussions are unchallengeable, positive, and explainable.
Our families would be comfortable reading about our actions, decisions, and discussions on the web or the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper.
7. Engagement – Face-to-face is the communications approach desired by just about everyone and every victim.
Take aggressive positive interaction with those who challenge us.
Our base and those who give us permission to operate expect us to deal with unconvinceables and victims.
Prompt direct interactive response, even negotiation, empowers the initiator.
8. Small Decencies
Small, voluntary, freely offered acts of courage, kindness, helpfulness.
Given, provided, or done without expectation of reward or acknowledgement.
A life pattern of simple, spontaneous, utterly decent actions.
9. Destiny Management – It’s your destiny, which only you can manage in your own best interest.
Manage your own destiny, or you’ll find someone waiting on the sidelines to do it for you.
Relentlessly correct and clarify the record.
Prompt, positive, constructive elaboration of the facts preempts critics and empowers employees, supporters and those who give us permission to operate.
10. Apology – The atomic energy of empathy. Apologies stop bad things, and bad things from starting.
Acknowledge personal responsibility for having injured, insulted, failed, or wronged another.
Explain what happened and the known reasons for the circumstance.
Talk about what you and your organization have learned that will help prevent a recurrence.
Humbly ask for forgiveness in exchange for more appropriate future behavior and to make amends.
You can call this anything you like: communications policy, guidelines, or manifesto. I like the word intentions because it signifies that we are fully engaged in communicating in the most effective, honest, empathetic, and open manner possible, all the time.
By publicly professing these intentions you will set a standard to which you can be held accountable. This behavior can lead to an extraordinarily interesting, useful, and trustworthy life, and besides, you sleep better at night.
Let’s talk about it. I’m always interested in helping colleagues develop their own personal principles. Reach out to me at 203-948-7029 or email@example.com.