I recently had the opportunity to participate in a realistic risk exercise involving scores of local state and federal officials. The purpose of the day- long event was to allow participants to implement emergency response plans, coordinate activities and practice responding to a potential incident that could threaten public safety in order to protect the public should a real life emergency occur.
As an observer and evaluator of communication tactics and strategies, what impressed me most was the constant attention of every participant across multiple agencies to protect those who were affected by the threatening situation that was unfolding. To their credit, no one asked how they could protect their organizations reputation but instead at every turn of events, the focus was on protecting the public from harm. No one tried to hide information. No one even talked about damage control. In role playing scenarios, they communicated what they knew as often and as quickly as possible in order to control information and minimize risk.
We can all learn from this group of admirable people whose sense of responsibility prompted them to do the right thing. While society sometimes reserves different rules for celebrities and high powered people, no one should be immune from doing the right thing regardless of income, status, power or relationships. As a leader, it is your job to set the bar and no personal relationship regardless of circumstances should compromise the integrity of your business or those around you. Period.
Regardless of the nature of your business or uniqueness of company culture, there should be a steadfast sameness when it comes to responsible behavior and communication. Applying these four golden rules will help you do the right thing when the wrong thing is taking place.
Tell it all and tell it fast
Not swiftly and decisively addressing problems makes situations worse. In today’s 24/7 news cycle, it’s more important than ever to report your own bad news and tell people what you are doing to make sure it never happens again.
Make it personal
Approach every situation as if it was happening in your own family. What would you do if your own child or loved one was a victim? How would you right the wrong? Speak with the same unbridled compassion and outrage you would unleash if something unspeakable happened to someone you love.
Sins of spin
Spinning should be reserved for bicycle classes at the gym, which is why you should take the word spin out of your vocabulary. Strive to create an environment of straight talk which speaks the truth as you know it to foster trust and respect.
Strong leaders welcome tough questions and answer them openly and honestly even when they don’t have all of the answers. They often choose unpopular paths that are fraught with resistance. Cowards put their tails between their legs and take the path of least resistance. When leaders place their own interests before what’s best for those they serve, they take everyone down with them.
Karen Friedman is a professional communication coach, speaker and chief improvement officer at Karen Friedman Enterprises. She is the author of “Shut Up and Say Something: Business Communication Strategies to Overcome Challenges and Influence Listeners” and winner of the Enterprising Woman of the Year Award.