Monday, April 1, 2013

Getting Leadership Ready to Accept Crisis Advice

"Getting Leadership Ready to Accept Crisis Advice"
Wisdom from the Crisis Guru # 999

It would seem logical if you are addressing or advising senior leaders and CEOs to be somewhat familiar with what they do, what they know, what they think, and where they come from. (Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication, Chapter 2: “Crisis Communication: Getting Leadership Ready for Crisis”)

This is indeed a powerful barrier to becoming a trusted strategic advisor; the notion that communications is so important we can simply walk up to someone who is important, blurt the answer to the questions they have, and wait for them to do what we say. This is naïve, this is arrogant, this is presumptive and it subtracts from the consultant’s credibility and value more than enhancing value and trust.

To advise leaders successfully requires the study of leadership, great politicians, great leaders, great business people, great thinkers and military strategists. Such study reveals behavior patterns, concerns, fears and doubts that provide the consultants great insight. These insights include knowing more about a leader’s history, their goals and expectations. Besides, sooner or later you have to explain what you’re talking about in the context of what your leadership does, thinks and expects.

Read about leadership, the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Sloan Management Review, Fortune Magazine, Barron’s, Wall Street Journal (every day), Jack Welch’s writings and books, Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report (any year), Directors and Boards, BoardRoom, Executive Book Summaries (monthly summaries of new business books), and any one of a dozen excellent business journals from around the United States, Canada, and Europe. Incidentally, Harvard Business Review happens to be the global standard for business information and education of executives. There are interesting communications and leadership cases in every issue. Your boss is likely reading it.

If you’re wondering what leaders study, they study other leaders and leadership. They read widely about business subjects and they are extremely curious about how businesses succeed and fail. How curious are you about how businesses and organizations succeed or fail? Why not study the business leaders and organizational leadership that your boss undoubtedly admires and studies as well? When I’ve queried CEOs and other leaders about the most important business writers and thinkers, those they pay attention to, these are the names that crop up every time:

· Peter Drucker

· John Kotter (professor, Harvard)

· Warren Bennis (consultant)

· James Collins (consultant)

· Tom Peters (business philosopher)

· Joseph Rotman (professor, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto)

· Noel Tichy (author, lecturer, human resource executive)

· Stephen Covey

Remember what bosses want from their advisors, especially in times of crisis and uncertainty:

· Real-time advice (that is, advice on the spot.) If you leave the room, you’re out of the game.

· Candor: I define candor as truth with an attitude delivered with great speed. It’s the single most important behavior that builds trust.

· Coaching at every encounter: the provision of insights and options to help bosses make better decisions.

· Information the boss does not already know. Most bosses think they know communication. If that’s all you’ve got, they’re not going to call you very often.

· Early warning about things they should be expecting, usually based on the advisor’s understanding of the pattern of events that occurring or will occur. It is about patterns and forecasting the future.

· What to do next. When you’re working with top leadership, they only have most of the answers. There are, by my estimate at least, 25% of the decisions they need to make every day totally on their own. And they could use your help.

Become a storyteller. This is especially powerful advice for women who much more rarely use stories as a method for communicating and persuasion. Males seem to be brought up in a storytelling culture and four decades of observation of the successful strategic advisor has demonstrated that the storyteller beats the information aggregator, evidence developer, and even logical thinker, almost every time. The more serious the situation, the more important it is to tell stories because serious situations put top executive jobs on the line. They know it and it gets in the way of rationality, and hearing.

Over the years I’ve learned that truth is about 15% facts and data and 85% emotion and an individual’s or group’s point-of-reference. Facts rarely prevail. Data makes people angry and causes disputes. The best advisors have mastered the emotional dimension through storytelling and help leaders successfully work through the less or non-measurable aspects of problems (angry neighbors, union problems, bad news, dumb decisions, in appropriate outbursts, etc.) as well.

A good story will beat even the best data, every single time.

By James E. Lukaszewski
James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA is the author of Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication, What Your CEO Needs to Know About Reputation Risk and Crisis Management, available now at

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