Jim’s Wisdom #23 May 6, 2021 Seven Ways to Bungle Your Crisis Response (and your career if you’re in charge when it happens) * * * For more than

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Jim’s Wisdom #23

May 6, 2021

Seven Ways to Bungle Your Crisis Response

(and your career if you’re in charge when it happens)


For more than 40 years I have been teaching and pleading about ways to handle crises effectively. Given that the number of crises has remained the same during that time frame, I’m going to take a different approach.

But first, let me share my philosophy about crisis management and mismanagement.

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The major lesson of more than 40 years of helping smart people and people who should know better reduce or eliminate their bungling is simply this:

All questionable, inappropriate, unethical, unconscionable, immoral, predatory, improper, victim-producing, and criminal behaviors are intentional.
All ethical, moral, compassionate, decent, civil, and lawful behaviors are also intentional.
The choice is always available, always clear, and always up to those in charge.
Unconscionable intentions, behaviors, actions, decisions, those that vilify, damage, demean, dismiss, diminish, humiliate, express anger and irritation, demand or bully, are mean, negative, insulting, disrespectful, disparaging, tone deaf, without empathy, that intentionally injure, accuse, overbear, are punitive, harmfully restrictive, and exceed the boundaries of decency, civility, and integrity, all are unethical because the intention is to harm the target of the behaviors.

The Seven Intentional Bungles

1. Remaining Silent: It feels good to stick it to the media, it’s okay to look like a perpetrator, and smart people will admire this approach. Even though there will be criticism, I’ll take that risk. The risk is taken because the odds are only 50/50 that the situation will even be seen as a crisis.
2. Stalling: Look, doing nothing is equal in potential outcomes to doing something. Even though there will be difficulty in explaining why it took so long to talk, to explain, to respond, to care for victims, you’re tired of having people you don’t know (particularly the media) fail to commiserate with your problems about which they know absolutely nothing.
3. Denial, Denial, Denial: Taking action is too often a demonstration of weakness and lack of confidence. You can’t let a bunch of questionable victims, people you don’t believe, and money grabbers dictate your response activities and those of your organization.
4. Ignore the Complainers: Reporters and activists are bellyachers and make things up. People fail to take into consideration all the things we contribute to the economy--jobs and opportunity. The victims just want money and attention, which they haven’t earned and do not deserve. We are real Victims, too. Why don’t the media and our critics see that?
5. Testosterosis: “My attorney is right to suggest that we need to punch back rather than cop out.” Refusing to give in to specious demands, especially to people who simply have uninformed views, is a legitimate management response. Landing the first punch will keep them off-balance and make them go away faster.
6. Being Decisive: If we appear to take responsibility, bad things are going to happen to us. We will look like weaklings to our industry, colleagues, and cohort. We don’t want to be the one to set a precedent that burdens the industry or triggers copycat behaviors.
7. There Are Worse Perpetrators: The real culprits must be defined as people who can and should take the blame for what’s happening. It can’t be us. No one is going to be allowed to stick this on me, or on my company. Who is looking for them?

There are many more eligible bungles; but do even one or two of these listed above, and your crisis status will only accelerate and become more complex.

One thing you should know for sure: if this is your approach, “management by bungling,” expect irreparable, permanent damage to your reputation, at least while you’re still in charge. The more of these behaviors that you emulate or persist in replicating, the lower the chances for your survival. However, it’s very likely you’ll receive a significant bonus for your departure, your inconvenience, and your silence. The people you don’t respect will be left behind to suffer, to wallow through the aftermath, while you take a great vacation, start working your network, receive a great reception from your alma mater/business school, be quoted by business magazines and media commentators, and find another organization that welcomes you aboard with a big signing bonus.

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