Humility the smart play when caught in a crisis


Two writers in Forbes, Doug Guthrie, right, and Sudhir Venkatesh, recently took aim at the key aspects of leadership that most often come into play, or should, in a crisis.

These are humility and admitting when you are wrong. Often, these can nip a crisis at hello, or at least shorten its duration and severity. They wrote:

In an era where out-size, narcissistic business leaders are treated like rock stars, with the requisite cult followings, of course, elevating humility as an essential trait for creative leaders may seem quaint, even a bit anachronistic. Yet, humility and the ability to admit error may be two of the most important qualities a truly creative leader must have.

That these writers need to remind us of the value of humility is a comment on our times, when ego and bullying and power seem reason enough for poor behavior.

Yet their view also emphasizes the smart play. If the American audience anticipates another boorish response from an above-it-all CEO who lives in limos and private jets, humility from a CEO breaks the mold. A CEO facing a crisis situation can especially gain from such a play because he or she flows against popular habit and gains not only from countering expectations, but does so in genuine ways that build credibility.

And by play we don’t mean faking it. If you’re heart’s not in it, your words and actions will say so loud and clear. If you take this route, go all in.

Again, this is particularly true in a crisis. Bluster or blame casting don’t sit well with people who think you screwed up. Piling arrogance on top of mistakes only compounds the likelihood that people will stay mad at you and your company. Taking responsibility, even if you are not personally at fault, sits well with people. It’s unexpected behavior and admirable. We all know how hard it is to admit mistakes.

Apologizing if necessary is the second part of a one-two punch of humility. No one likes to stand up and say publicly they failed. Unfortunately, as Guthrie notes, too many CEOs feel sharks starting to circle if they admit perceived weakness. But his point, which is so valuable, is that apologizing demonstrates character and strength, the underpinnings of effective leadership.

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.
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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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