A few years back, a popular if simplistic philosophy emerged from a bestselling book and dictated that all you needed in life you learned in kindergarten. No doubt we’ve all met a lot of people who act like that.
But there is a fundamental truth — the operative word, indeed — that applies to crisis time as it does to life. Tell the truth. The fastest way to have locusts descend on you or your company is to lie and get caught. “I did not have sex with that woman,” comes to mind. More recently there was “My system was hacked.”
For last year’s bolder examples, check out http://gawker.com/5870499/the-year-in-lies. Listed there are some granddaddys. There is of course Rep. Anthony Weiner — who gave New York’s tabloid headline writers the time of their lives [‘Weiner Exposed’ et al] — and British newspaper exec James Murdoch; the operators of the Japanese nuclear plant crippled by the earthquake/tsunami; the U.S. government, and a host of others.
If you believe, as most do, that the truth will come out in the end, it is to your clear advantage to tell the truth first and always. Yes, as our teachers told us in kindergarten and thereafter, the truth does hurt. But it hurts a lot less if you get it out first not have it thrust in your face months later.
Let’s look briefly at Herman Cain. As soon as he hit the top of the GOP record charts, stories [first in Politico] and complaints emerged from his past that he’d sexually harassed women he worked with. Then, as predictably as a Rick Perry brain cramp, that Cain had an affair.
Did anyone really believe that 1. Faced with this crisis, Cain would step to a microphone and tell the obvious truth? or, 2. That in the end the allegations would force him to quit the campaign for the Republican nomination for president? Inevitable.
Therefore, the way to snatch a small victory is to tell the truth. Newt Gingrich did and he’s still campaigning. Cain might have said:
“In my past I exhibited behaviors I should not have. I was wrong. I paid the price. I take responsibility. I am clearly not of sound enough character to be president and I apologize. I am suspending my campaign. I ask for my supporters’ understanding and thank them for their efforts to date.”
Was Herman Cain the first politician to pursue infidelities? LOL as we like to write. Might he have become among the first to admit it, fess up and voluntarily enter the woodshed? Probably. Would we all think better of him for it? Surely.
If you or your company face a crisis, remember what your kindergarten teacher said: Always tell the truth. Layer onto that what we teach in crisis management: Facts are your friends; facts first; never lie.
As kindergartners tell us: Liar, liar pants on fire.