I am in a big believer in being prepared for reputational damage or crisis. My book on Corporate Reputation: 12 StepsTo Safeguarding and Recovering Reputation is all about learning from crisis and being ready for the next one. As Weber Shandwick’s most admired stumble rate declares, every company should plan on some reputational mishap or misstep in the future. Nearly four in 10 companies have lost reputational status in the past year. I just read an article sent to me about the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative at Harvard. The initiative’s goal was to learn lessons from leaders who have faced crisis situations such as terrorist attackes (Israel, Madrid, London), natural disasters (Hurricane Katrina), health scares (pandemics), oil spills (Deepwater Horizon), etc.
One of the first lessons they uncovered applies to companies and institutions and is:
“…that bad leadership – much like smoking – is a public health risk factor. Whether in the aftermath of a terror attack or a natural disaster, we have seen that when leaders don’t perform well lives are lost and people abandoned.”
And the second lesson is getting everyone on the same page so everyone can work quickly, effectively and efficiently on behalf of a common and shared goal.
“Working together after a disaster requires forging bonds before a disaster.”
Third, and a powerful lesson for companies, is to “expect every citizen to participate.” Leaders have to listen no matter how soft or weak the signals are. And these early warning signs need to get to those who can act and whose job it is to protect reputation. Empowering employees is critical to averting reputational disaster. As the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative found, “citizen bystanders” can make all the difference as we saw with the shoe bomber and underwear bomber airline incidents of the past few years.
“We should regard these heroes as leaders in their own right.”