Surely sometime, buried deep in the sands of time, back in the ’90s, an angry CEO impulsively fired someone who may or may not have deserved the ax. He or she did so in a fit of irrational anger that should be saved for the scream that issues when you come home and the dog had breakfast in the garbage that’s now strewn on the kitchen floor.
We’ve spent much time in this space discussing how to apologize for an honest mistake. Now I’d like to take it a step further and talk about how to avoid the avoidable. These days there are cameras and microphones everywhere, as we all know, but a few of us continue to forget.
That brings us to AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, who publicly and angrily fired a Patch creative director last week for taking pictures in a meeting Armstrong called to discuss the local news supplier’s future and possible layoffs.
Whether Abel Lenz deserved to be fired or not is for HR pros to decide. Clearly the manner, time and place Armstrong chose were not ideal. He didn’t plan it or think. He just acted impulsively, like a teen-ager.
A recurring theme in a crisis and in damaging an individual or corporate reputation [or, in this case, both] is how often they’re self-imposed. A deep breath, a thought about surroundings, a momentary pause to listen to the good angel on your shoulder, not the devil, and many crises would die before they’re born.
Armstrong’s apology was corporate and rather silly. How can you apologize for such a gross breach of smarts like this without “and I intend to enroll in six months of anger-management classes?” There may be a time and place for an appropriate show of anger, but making it personal in front of 1,000+ employees calls into question your fitness for the job.
People used to call it shooting yourself in the foot. In crisis management, we’d suggest never picking up the loaded gun.
The content of this blog 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 http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.