The following is the first 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 two here and part three here.
The importance and value of crisis leadership has perhaps never been more apparent than it has been in recent years. Companies across the globe have been bombarded by one societal crisis after another. Every time a leader delivers a message—be it at a board meeting, media interview, keynote, all-staff meeting, community event, or on a social platform—the reputational piggy bank realizes a light deposit or heavy withdrawal. Thinking strategically about what the right message is and how it will resonate with many micro, diverse communities will help assure your reputational and cash balances pay incremental dividends over time.
I’ve learned from many leaders who communicate spectacularly under duress. The best communicators are obsessive about every syllable they utter, facial expression, piece of clothing and message point they deliver. They’ve learned how to steer clear of organizational jargon. They are detail-oriented and compassionately deliver messages in a conversational way that quickly and emotionally connects with those who consume their words. They are analytical, well-timed and process loads of information, almost instantaneously. They have a steady hand under pressure no matter the gravity of the situation or tightness of deadline. They understand the big picture, it’s what they do best: seeing the whole room and moving people to proper perspective, balance, and action.
Mishandled crises will cost you time, money, stakeholder confidence and your career. The decisions made today will be judged by many for years to come. It is impossible to spin your way through a crisis, instead you must lead the way through it. It’s not about shallow window dressing, it’s about long-term sustainable change. Real leaders emerge when the chips are down, and the stakes are at their highest. Anyone can lead when profits are high and employees are happy and motivated. After decades of helping people during life’s most difficult times, I’ve come to realize that crises are not to be feared, but rather present opportunities for growth. Reputation leads to trust and trust leads to valuation, but not all valuation can be measured in dollars.
I’ve had the privilege of advising leaders in large healthcare, academia, financial, legal, entertainment and insurance organizations, along with many public, private, government and nonprofit entities who are fighting for marketplace trust and their futures. The key is to understand each organization’s navigational fix—where’d they like to be—and then chart the path forward using a deep well of instinct and experience.
Crisis leadership is an art, not a science. It’s laden in nuance—a predictive mindset is not negotiable.