Managing Adversity and the CEO

10208_thumb2_220x244Friday night marked a return to Michigan State University – this time in Lansing before students of the Eli Broad School of Businesses’ Executive MBA program – to talk about “Leading in Crisis”.  I had the good fortune to chat with MSU’s Troy-based class earlier in the year to discuss adversity management tenets and practices good and bad.  Both classes were smart and engaged.

During the Q&A session toward the end of the evening, the conversation moved, as it had in Troy, to dynamics related to how best to counsel, guide and motivate CEOs to do the right thing in a crisis situation.  As I relayed in a recent blog, with the tone of any organization set at the top, a CEOs acting expediently and appropriately is vital. At the same time, getting them to do so is often one of the most difficult things for any crisis consultant or team member to accomplish. Why exactly is that?

After all, escaping a crisis is rare if not impossible. Statistics show that 59% of all decision makers have experienced a crisis and 79% believe they will experience a another within the next year.  Of course, doing nothing is never an option. Yet, many executives hide their heads in the sand hoping things will “blow over.” Contrast that with the fact that public opinion polls indicate that 62% believe that when a company utters “no comment” or “could not be reached for comment” it implies guilt or that the company or individual in question has something to hide.  At Tanner Friedman, our argument is that you can always say something. And when a story is being prepared on the situation anyway, wouldn’t you rather tell your side of it – or at least provide perspective?

So how does one motivate the top person to proper decision-making and action? It definitely gets easier with experience but, first and foremost, the key is gaining that individual’s trust and respect overall.  Even then, however, fear, legal ramifications and ego can all muddy the waters and get in the way. My recipe in that case is to present a 360-degree perspective that presents possible ramifications should they act counter to what you are recommending. They might not want to hear them but you’re not doing your job if you don’t make such scenarios known.  Sometimes, in the end (and as long as nothing illegal or dishonest is being put forth) you may need to agree to disagree and live to fight another day.  They don’t call it adversity management for nothing.