Yesterday, John Stumpf, Chairman and CEO of Wells Fargo, appeared before the Senate Banking Committee. It was reported in virtually every news outlet and will affect the reputation of Wells Fargo for a long time to come. This will be true whether he has a job or not.

When things like this happen, leaders often call in the public relations experts and attorneys. Some of them are great and others are not so good. If the experts you call are technicians, they will help you say the wrong thing using correct grammar or they will help you say nothing using eloquent language. Either way, you look evasive.

This happens all too often. You can tell because the message does not address the central issue, it seeks to minimize the harm. It is like bailing water in a leaky boat. If your ship is taking on water, you need to know why. It is at this very moment, with the fear of blame in the air that the leader must look for the cause and resist jumping to conclusions. Yet, it is in the rush to manage the bad news. manage risk and minimize damage that leaders often receive advice that is completely wrong.

Once a crisis occurs, you don’t have much time or many chances to recover. Click To Tweet

Here is what you should do to avoid common mistakes:

1. Look below the surface. As a leader, if you have been staring at spreadsheets or dashboards to understand your business, you may not know the tide has come in until your feet are wet. Once that happens, the tendency is to react immediately. It takes a little time to look at something holistically but it prevents errors and allows the desire to blame to cool, if ever so slightly.

2. Understand how this will impact your customers. If you address only the manifest issue, you’ll look shallow. Gee, we’re sorry for the mistakes and we’ll fix them. Great. Do you realize that my trust in you just went down by about 75%? Speak to that!

3. Do not excuse or minimize wrongdoing. Do not be euphemistic in your language. Don’t blame a “few bad apples”, no one believes you. If it’s actually true, you can say so later when doing so will be more credible.

4. Apologize with sincerity and say what you are apologizing for. “We are sorry” is a hollow statement if I think you don’t understand how I am affected by what you did or didn’t do.

5. Look in the mirror. If you, a leader, have been satisfied with knowing only what but nothing about how, you are part of the problem. A leader needs to know how the organization works, how the results came to be, not just what they are.

Counter-intuitively, this applies when things are going well and when they are not. If success is happening by good practice, everyone can learn from knowing that. If it is occurring because someone is cheating, you’ll find out sooner.

Discover Your Inner Meta-Leader

Download your free Meta-Leadership self-assessment


You have Successfully Subscribed!