THE ART OF CRISIS LEADERSHIP
Robert W. Weinhold Jr.
Fallston Group is one of the nation’s leading executive advisory firms specializing in crisis management and communications. Its highly responsive, deeply experienced team helps clients make sound leadership decisions, execute strategy, influence perceptions, manage reputation and build long-term brand value. Below, Fallston Group chief executive Robert W. Weinhold Jr. discusses his new book, The Art of Crisis Leadership, co-authored with 30-year Baltimore Sun veteran Kevin Cowherd and available at fallstongroup.com.
Q: Your book offers key takeaways from well-known crises, including the Baltimore riots and the Ray Rice scandal. How do you think leaders will benefit from reading the book?
A: This book offers a very practical perspective on many recognizable, regionally-based real-life crises, from sex scandal to investigation, community issues to social media attack, natural disaster to data breach, and many more. No matter the crisis, these situations impact the most valuable asset of any size business — its reputation. Each chapter and real-life account illustrates applicable skills and considerations necessary to weather an issue of adversity or sensitivity and come out stronger than before. Our firm’s goal in any situation is to turn short-term adversity into long-term advantage.
One of the biggest executive leadership gaps today is a failure to be predictive. It’s not if a crisis will happen, it’s when. Most people are blindsided when a crisis occurs and paralyzed with the task of what to do next. The universal takeaways from this book provide a foundational starting point for executives to begin managing crises in a way that will save time, money, customers, and ultimately, careers. One must be predictive in nature and create organizational muscle memory for organizations to not only survive, but thrive during life’s most challenging times. Make no mistake about it, the decisions you make today will be judged by many for years to come.
Q: Can you give an example of a story you tell in the book and the lessons business leaders can learn?
A: Denise Whiting, the owner of Café Hon in Hampden, faced vicious backlash after trademarking the term “Hon” several years ago. She was hurt, humiliated and exhausted beyond measure. Contributing to her problems was the fact that Denise was making no public statements about the Hon trademark while being questioned about intent by everyone, including the news media. She was not controlling the message or being heard. As a result, the opposition spoke for her and about her, unchallenged. When the drumbeat of negativity or rumor persists without balance, the untruths become fact. It is imperative to quickly control your message from the onset of any crisis. Our mantra at Fallston Group is, “If you don’t tell your story, someone else will. And when someone else tells your story, it won’t be the story you want told.” Denise became much stronger after our involvement, and the book highlights the incredible personal challenge and many teaching points along the way.
Q: One of the points you touch on is whether or not it’s appropriate to apologize when your company is embroiled in a scandal. What are some of the factors to consider?
A: One of the more interesting studies I found during my research was a study released by Weber Shandwick (in partnership with KRC Research) entitled The CEO Reputation Premium: Gaining Advantage in the Engagement Era. The study surveyed more than 1,700 executives to better understand what is required of leaders today. One key finding: 44 percent of marketplace valuation is based on the reputation of the CEO.
According to the study, strong marketplace valuation helps organizations attract investors, generate positive media attention, sustain crisis, and attract and retain employees. Based on my client observations, this is not only true, but tested during crisis and any resulting apologies. Put another way, whether a pope, president, police chief or politician, do you trust their words and actions, particularly when an apology is delivered? If not, while their personal and professional equity plummets, so do earnings per share. Please, if you are going to apologize, be sincere and don’t underestimate your stakeholders’ ability to move your marketplace value needle.
Q: What are folks saying about the book?
Well, the book was recently released, but I think both Joseph Mancuso and Jo DeFeo sum it up best:
“Rob Weinhold has captured in this one book what it took me 28 books to communicate to CEOs.”” – Dr. Joseph Mancuso, founder of CEO Clubs International, ceoclubs.org and ceoclubsworldwide.com.
“In my 3- plus years as a television news executive, I’ve seen people’s stories implode both on and off-camera, particularly when they’re attempting to manage controversial issues. The real-life situations and strategies detailed in this book are invaluable to those who have to make the tough decisions when the world is watching.” – Joe DeFeo, ABC7/NewsChannel8 Washington, DC