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Fallston Group | The Part of Crisis Leadership (Part Three)

The Power of Crisis Leadership (Part Three)

The following is the last of three excerpts from a feature article, written by Rob Weinhold, Fallston Group Chief Executive, and published by “Captive International” in July 2020. Read part one here and part two here.

Looking for ways to ensure your reputational piggy bank continues to overflow? Fallston Group offers the following guidance, based on our most powerful lessons learned over the past decade of helping clients through events of adversity:

  • Never erode your integrity: misinformation breeds distrust. There can be an immense pressure to “make your organization look good.” Many want you to press your nose up against the ethical window of truth and transparency. Do not cave in to others who would like you to lie, distort the truth or leave vital facts behind which alter messaging and perception—this is tantamount to a lie. Once it’s lost, you will never fully restore your integrity.
  • Be relevant: as the art of traditional and digital press relations evolves within a changing worldwide media landscape, many leaders seem less inclined to return a reporter’s calls, or otherwise seek to delay the release of information. Some view this as refusing to feed the “media monster”. By sticking their heads in the sand and not responding, businesses make themselves irrelevant and ineffective. If you don’t tell your story, someone else will. When someone else tells your story, it certainly won’t be the story you want told.
  • Know the facts: a common mistake of many who speak publicly revolves around not fully preparing and gaining a sound understanding of the facts before articulating their position. Too many professionals jump out on camera or in front of an audience with no substantive information or an unwillingness to engage with questions. Not knowing the facts or relying on the “no comment” phrase is unacceptable. Know your position, know your craft: it’s your legacy.
  • Be predictive: when preparing to deliver a message, be certain to plan for every question and eventuality. There is often a tendency for people to want to go on camera without fully preparing because they are used to speaking publicly or know the organization very well—chief executives are good for this. Push back and demand ample preparation. Failing to plan is planning to fail. An eight to 15-second media soundbite can ruin your career—just ask BP’s former chief executive, Tony Hayward, who recklessly uttered “I want my life back” after one of the world’s most damaging oil spills that killed 11 people in 2010. Don’t wing it; prepare for every interview no matter how mundane or harmless it may seem.
  • Build media relationships: know those who tell your story—media and your ambassadors—as well as your detractors. You want to get the benefit of the doubt when people tell your story. It’s not about an unfair advantage, but simply balance. When managing the media, gather intelligence from reporters and news organizations—ask them what angle they plan to cover, who they are speaking with and what their position is. They are under no obligation to share these details, but you’d be amazed at what they will tell you, particularly if there is an existing relationship or future mutual need.
  • Video doesn’t tell the whole story: a video account of what happened does not factor many variables—what each party said, body language from all angles and what transpired before and after the footage. In today’s digital world, everyone is a citizen journalist with an opinion, and many want to be the next YouTube sensation. More is recorded and shared than at any other point in history. The emergence of video has changed all professions, but be careful when making a judgement or decision based solely on video evidence. Treat video for what it is: another tool in the search for the truth.
  • Practice, practice, practice: it is essential to practice public speaking. Practice on camera in an authentic, safe environment. Reputations on camera can save your career.
  • Seek advice from colleagues. take a look at how others have responded during times of crisis and leverage their lessons learned to your advantage. Your colleagues, peers and competitors are invaluable pools of knowledge and can serve as the single most important case study resource. Be a student of your peer experiences and learn from other’s successes and missteps.

Of the many leaders I’ve worked with during crises, there are two benchmarks of success which allow leaders to quickly maintain control and weather the storm. First, they put their hand in the air and recognize they are in trouble—they don’t let their ego get in the way. Second, they ask for help from their trusted circle. Recognition of trouble and decisiveness in action will help you turn short-term adversity into long-term advantage. 

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