Thursday, April 29, 2010

Churchill by Paul Johnson

Although small as compared to the various compendiums that have been written about Mr. Churchill, this book is a very top-level survey of his life and the interesting aspects of what he accomplished. It’s quite enjoyable and there’s an audio download version read by the author (who’s an extremely good narrator and reader).

What I found most interesting in this book was how the author distilled the lessons of Churchill’s life. I believe these are the author’s construction rather than Churchill’s, but they appear in the book and are illustrated with great circumstances and events in Churchill’s life. Here they are in brief:
  1. Aim high. If you aim lower, you’ll achieve less.
  2. Encourage hard work. In addition to all that Churchill accomplished during his life (more than two million written words), he produced hundreds of paintings, and on his farm in Chartwell he built many buildings, several lakes, and other enhancements to the pastoral value of the property. Churchill led an incredibly busy and productive life.
  3. Stay above the fray. Forgive and move on. Churchill seemed to be a master of living his life episodically. As one episode ended, another began, and he rarely went back to the previous episodes.
  4. Avoid the negative. Replace enmity with friendship. Churchill clearly was a friend maker. He rarely, if ever, held a grudge, at least publicly. And while he was roundly disliked by many powerful people, the attributes already mentioned is how he overpowered that negativity.
  5. Search for joy. Churchill was a happy person with people. He relished and found humor in most everything in which he was engaged. Like so many successful politicians, it was the people aspect of life that gave him the most energy and perspective, and in return they gave him power and the opportunity to use it.
For more on Winston Churchill, visit http://www.winstonchurchill.org/, the Web site for the U.S.-based organization that helps maintain chapters across the United States and Canada, as well as university programs in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere.

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When Death Is the Crisis

Operational and Communication Guidelines

One of the most difficult challenges leaders and their communicators face is what to do, what to say, how to behave, and what decisions to make when someone is killed. This problem does arise, all too frequently. Here are some useful guidelines for both operators and communicators:

1. The bigger the market, the less a single death seems to matter unless:

  • The death is spectacular.
  • The death reflects a pattern of malpractice, malfeasance, omission, negligence, or cover up.
2. Lukaszewski’s First Law of Adversity and Crisis Survival is to recognize that neither the government, the new media or news media, politicians, regulators, critics, nor your enemies have the power to defeat you. Defeat is almost always caused by uninformed or distracted bosses, insider leaks (from management or leadership, or especially from attorneys), well meaning friends and peers, or relatives.

3. Managing the victims and their survivors is 95 percent of your success. Anything less than a full throated communication and operational effort leaves the perpetrator vulnerable. Victim management is a long-term scenario. It can go well beyond settlement or even the end of litigation.

4. If you want to affect public opinion effectively, you have to influence employee opinion effectively, first. External communication strategies only work when there is a base in place that understands, supports, advocates, or remains neutral.

5. There is a pattern for successfully obtaining forgiveness.

6. There is a pattern for making your own problems worse.

7. There is a pattern to the power victims will have over you.

8. Focus on promptly settling these matters as aggressively, compassionately, and positively as possible.

9. Delay, stalling, timidity, and hesitation are the ingredients of failure. Silence is toxic to the perpetrator.

10. Avoid:

  • Speaking for others
  • Disparaging or discrediting
  • All negative words and language
  • Metaphors, paraphrases, or analogies
  • Creating new critics or enemies
  • Using old information to justify or forgive today's actions
  • Relying on corporate or legal assumptions rather than the realities victims and their survivors/families believe they are actually facing.
  • Taking any of this personally (stay at altitude)
  • Testosterosis
  • Whining
11. Be compassionate, extremely empathetic, open, responsive, transparent, truthful, candid, and engaging. Get to a place where you could consider apologizing.

12. Answer all the questions. For every question you skip, someone makes up an answer that you are going to wind up eating and owning.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Crisis Preventers

Doing Simple, Sensible, Small Right Things (SSSRT)

Among the most frequent questions I’m asked by both professionals in our field and those they advise (CEOs and other operating officials) is, “Can you tell me what, in your experience, are the greatest crisis preventers?”

This is a quite profound question. Here’s my answer.

The most powerful crisis prevention behaviors involve doing the simple, sensible, small right things (SSSRT):
  1. Immediately.
  2. As soon as possible.
  3. That prevent the creation of critics, victims, and more serious antagonists.
  4. That prevent bad outcomes.
  5. That reduce contention, friction, confrontation, and conflict.
How powerful are these five simple thoughts? Every one of these concepts, if practiced relentlessly and constructively, will eliminate 25 to 50 expensive, time consuming, embarrassing crisis-generated response, mediation, retrenching, and recovery steps. When we analyze any crisis, on any scale, for after action reports or lessons learned, the most fundamental question is “How could this have been prevented?”

The answer is to do the simple, sensible right things first, and you can detect, deter, and prevent much larger problems.

Take any scenario (at any scale of magnitude), apply these five SSSRT principles, and you will knock most potential crisis situations down to a whimper, or down and out.

Some SSSRT examples:
  • Toyota: Take corrective action in the first month rather than the 24th month.
  • The Catholic Church: Call the police every time. Apologize now.
  • Sub-prime mortgages: Always deal in real money.
  • Goldman Sachs: Check with your mother. Would she approve?
  • Richard Nixon: Put your hands down at your sides and admit what you did.
  • Bill Clinton: You did have sex with that woman, admit it, and stop.
  • Dan Rather: You did make it up.
  • Tiger Woods, John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, and so many, many more: Keep your zippers up.
  • Exxon Valdez: Have the right trained and qualified persons steering the ship.
  • Wall Street: Keep Main Street fixed and working or your life will be miserable.
How many similar situations can you identify SSSRTs for? Let’s start building a list. Just send your comments in when you can.

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