Leadership and crisis management – Who can we trust?

by Charlie_East_West on February 25, 2013


Nick Clegg’s latest round of flip-flopping about whether he previously knew anything about the allegations surrounding Lord Rennard is hardly a surprise. It is just another example of how the leadership within many of our established public and private sector institutions respond to an internal crisis. This pattern of crisis management half truths and deceit at the top of an organisation has been recently exposed through BBC/Saville, News International/hacking, BP/Gulf of Mexico oil spill, Vatican/child abuse allegations, MPs expenses, supermarkets/horsemeat.
There appears to be a lack of accountability and transparency at the top of many crisis hit organisations. There will always be a number bad ‘uns getting up to lots of very naughty things – such is life. Increasingly however, we also appear to have a set of teflon coated, weak leaders who will do, say, and act upon anything that allows them to keep their cowardly heads firmly below the parapet of blame.
The leadership either covers up the potential of exposure, or shows negligence from lacking knowledge of a major crisis engulfing their organisation. I tend to take the view that it is probably the former rather than the latter.  I have had the privilege of working with senior management within many high profile public and private sector organisations. I know for a fact that the senior management teams are on top of absolutely everything within their company. They operate like a corporate version of Sir Alex Ferguson – they have eyes and ears at all levels within their organisation. They are the super control freaks who leave no stone left unturned. They are in charge because they have an eye for the prize, and as a result they know absolutely bloody everything about their business. Details are everything to these people. They are utterly ruthless in their thirst for knowledge about their own business.
So, we are dealing with a problem of honesty and the inevitable cover up that goes with the protection of power and brand reputation. The pattern of murky governance seems to be sadly consistent across all sectors. Pre-exposure – bad behaviour that is allowed to spread unregulated for years; a long term cover up; eventual exposure; the inevitable shit-storm that follows. There is also a similar pattern of governance beyond the exposure of a crisis. Post-exposure – A witch hunt throughout each organisation; no one taking it on the chin and adopting the mea culpa role; everyone wriggling out from any admission of prior knowledge until it is way too late; Pandora’s box opened by a blood thirsty media who hunt in a pack for the kill; and eventually a high profile name is forced into resignation. I suspect, that in the case of the Lord Rennard allegations, Nick Clegg will eventually pay the price for an immediate lack of transparency. The pattern is set and the knives are out.
A little word of advice for our great leaders within public and private sector life. If your organisation faces a crisis – please immediately man up, and honestly admit what you previously knew about the crisis. Having previously worked in PR, I know that the first rule of crisis management is for a leader to be honest at all costs – even if it means losing your job. If you face up to the crisis and take full responsibility, people will respect you – as shown by Greg Dyke after the publication of the Hutton Report. The alternative is a path of deception, which will inevitably end in tears, and having to face the rest of your career ridiculed as someone who cannot be trusted.
An even better rule for any leader would be to front up to any crisis immediately. In this day and age, kicking a potential scandal into the long grass will only increase the shame of the inevitable exposure in the long run. I personally, could not give a shit about whether Lord Rennard got a wee bit frisky with a few unsuspecting members of staff. What I do care about is the lack of transparency within the Lib Dem leadership to investigate, and communicate the issue, as and when it occurred.
Unfortunately, our leaders will always behave this way, because, as we all know, power corrupts. The lure of the grace and favour lifestyle, the chauffeur driven car, the giant pension pot, luxury foreign trips, and getting VIP access to parties with interesting and attractive people, will always ensure that our leaders will take the road to perdition if it means clinging to power. I do not know how they can sleep at night.
The trust has gone. Our establishment is in tatters, which begs the question – Who can we trust in a crisis?


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