It’s always surprising when you hear a leader talking about some “unexpected” event as if it had just happened out of the blue when all the signs were there for some time. Or a scandal that has been brewing for a while and everyone, except the leader is talking about it. Good leaders don’t wait to address the elephant in the room, they face the elephant head on.
Any public relations or crisis management guru will tell you that to wait can be devasting. So why do so many leaders do it? My belief is that it’s fear – fear of failure, fear of loss of stature or simply fear or paralysis because they absolutely don’t know what to do. None of these are valid reasons for inaction. The inaction will lead to worse outcomes and options than you will have if you deal with it directly when whatever it is surfaces. Inaction can actually bring about your worst fear. It’s similar to golfers who have a shot over water, if they focus on NOT hitting the water, they have a much higher likelihood of hitting it into the water than if they focus on landing it on the green or fairway. Believe me, I’ve spent a lot of time on the links trying to disprove this one!
Ignoring something only gives it more time and energy to grow even worse. It’s highly unlikely that any scandal or crisis solves itself on its own or somehow blows over. Regardless of how hard we wish it to be true. Remember, hope is not a strategy. I can’t think of a single example of when this approach worked. On the other hand, I have lost count of the times a crisis became the swamp monster before anyone had time to develop a defensive strategy because they were too busy ignoring what was right in front of them.
What should a leader do?
- Face it – Stop putting your head in the sand and recognize that the employee, the competitor, the crisis, the customer, the “thing” is not going to go away on its own.
- Name it – Give it a name so that you can talk about it succinctly and don’t sugar coat it. If it’s the potential loss of a customer that is 75% of your business, call it that and don’t act as if it’s not as serious as it is – that’s business killing, not just a customer loss.
- Research the facts – What is really going on? Do you have all the information? Find out to the best of your ability.
- Develop a strategy to deal with it – What are your options? Involve the team. It’s not just your problem. Decide what approach you will take.
- Communicate to the team – Develop the communication strategy both internally and externally.
- Make contingency plans – Have some back-up plans if Strategy A doesn’t work out. People need to know you’ve got this and have multiple plans and options.
Confronting reality is not always fun. Sometimes it’s painful but it’s always the right thing to do. Not doing it will be much, much more painful.