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Crisis Creates Opportunity for Great Leaders

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Recently, food-borne illness was found to have caused the death of eleven Canadians. After a thorough inspection, it was concluded that the problem originated in a plant operated by Maple Leaf Foods.

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At a press conference, the President of Maple Leaf Foods, Michael McCain responded:

"Certainly knowing that there is a desire to assign blame, I want to reiterate that the buck stops right here. This week, it's our best efforts that failed, not the regulators or the Canadian food safety system. I emphasize: this is our accountability and it's ours to fix, which we are taking on fully. We have and we continue to improve on our action plans."

Honesty builds goodwill

It was so refreshing to see a leader step up and accept responsibility in an incredibly difficult situation. The report on the conference says you could see the pain in his face. He was completely honest. He took a hard stance and accepted full responsibility.

In today’s legal environment, it’s harder than ever for executives to accept this kind of responsibility. Lawyers often advise against it because it costs money. But it builds goodwill because people appreciate people who stand up and do what’s right without regard to the cost.

The 3 phases of a crisis

We found a great special report, Crisis – A Leadership Opportunity [pdf]. It discusses the three phases in the lifecycle of a crisis:

Preparation
During this phase, complacency has set in. As problems boil to the surface, leaders often ignore them to avoid any conflict. This failure to respond early leads to the crisis.

Emergency

Now the threat has been ascertained and the very existence of the organization may be threatened. Leaders direct all their energy to eliminate the immediate threat.

Adaptive
All possible attention has been given to crisis. There has been an urgency to get to the source and take corrective actions. With the crisis still at the top of everyone’s mind, now is the time to make the changes necessary to prevent the crisis from happening again. People are receptive and open.

However, many leaders fail to take advantage of this opportunity. Instead, they push the organization back to the status quo. The result? The crisis returns!

The report [pdf] goes on to discuss the seven essential success strategies for leaders in crisis. It also discusses two famous cases of leadership in crisis – Johnson & Johnson’s handling of the Tylenol poisonings and Rudy Giuliani’s response immediately after the events of September 11, 2001.

We highly recommend that you check out this fantastic resource. It will help you learn to adapt to little problems so they don’t become a major crisis. 

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Next time, we ask, “Are you solving the problem or the symptom?” Until then, here’s to your bigg success!

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How Honest Should You be with Your Employees?

questionsClinton Korver wrote a great article for Harvard Business Publishing. He talks about his experience running a start-up and why it’s especially important during tough times to share information with your employees.

He says that he went against the advice of his venture capitalists. They feared losing employees, customers, and other investors if the bad news got out. Clinton found that being completely forthright strengthened his relationships with his employees.

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marylynn One of my radio managers did that when our company wasn’t doing so well. I appreciated the honesty and how it put all of us on the same page.

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Honesty is high on most of our lists of core values. However, do we really think that we should always be honest?

For example, picture yourself standing with your best friend adoring her newborn baby boy. You think he’s the least attractive baby you’ve ever seen. She’s going on and on about him, when she asks you the dreaded question …

Isn’t he the best looking baby you’ve ever seen?

Would you tell her what you really think? Or would you pick your words carefully to avoid hurting her feelings?

Of course, this is a different situation than the first one presented – being honest with your employees, even when things are not going well.

But it illustrates that there can be a second value at stake – the desire to not cause undue harm.

Is there a reason to tell your friend what you really think? What good will come from it?

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georgeI’ve come to believe strongly in open-book management. As a general rule, I think the more you share with your employees, the better. Having said that, I have found you also have to know your employees. Open-book requires a higher level of maturity from your employees. If that’s not present, sharing more just creates undue emotional distress.

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The reason an ethical dilemma is a dilemma is because two or more core values at odds with each other. These situations flow up to the leader. You have to find a good solution.

It’s a personal decision. There likely will be disagreement on the best way to handle it. That’s why it’s so important to have a framework in place for these kinds of decisions.
This framework will help you:

  • be more efficient in making decisions like this
  • make decisions that are consistent instead of all over the board
  • build goodwill with all affected parties
  • respect the face you see in the mirror at the end of the day

We have a great resource that helps you set up the framework so when an ethical dilemma comes your way you’re prepared. It outlines the three steps to solving an ethical situation:

  • Know your core values
  • Select an ethical model that helps you apply those core values
  • Use a problem-solving process to work through the situation at hand

So we’ve presented an ethical dilemma today … should you share all news with your employees, even the bad stuff? What do you think?

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