Jane Jordan-Meier is principal of Jane Jordan & Associates, a boutique training, coaching and advisory firm, Jane is a high-stakes communication and media coach with more than two decades of experience in working with executive management in both the government and the private sectors. Most of Jane’s work is in crisis management training with senior and executive management.
The disgraced, now ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner has lessons for many of us in how not to do crisis management.
As sad and as painful as it has been to watch as the feisty New Yorker fall from grace in less than a month, it is fruitful to sit back and take a look at the lessons learned.
But first some truisms. In a crisis:
- Values are on display.
- People default to type.
- Skeletons always come out of the closet – the ghosts (of the past) will haunt you.
- Journalists are driven to seek the truth. They will dig and dig until they get to the bottom of the story.
- Lies, obfuscation exacerbate a crisis.
- Body language never lies.
Weiner and his crisis:
- Values – arrogance, naivety or narcissism. (The narcissist is described as being excessively preoccupied with issues of personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity, as defined by Wikipedia). Ex-Congressman Weiner seemed to be enjoying all the attention.
- People default to type – under stress we default to what we know, e.g. we may forget that we speak English if say Spanish was our first language, and/or we default to our base personality type. Anthony Weiner showed his type very clearly – liar, bully (calling the reporter a “jackass” for asking certain questions.) Think also of the hapless Tony Hayward (BP Oil Spill) – “I want my life back.” He, too, showed his type in a crisis.
- Skeletons and ghosts – did he not think that his dirty little secrets wouldn’t come out? As the days went by we heard more “dirt.” A former porn actress, Ginger Lee, who said she exchanged emails and messages over Twitter with Weiner, said that he asked her to lie about their online communications. She said they mostly discussed politics, but he would often turn the conversation to sex.
- Journalists will dig and dig – Weiner seems to have forgotten the rules of the Fifth Estate. Journalists will fight to defend their right to “public enlightenment.” That is, as the American Journalistic code of ethics says, “the forerunner of justice and the foundation for democracy.”
- Lies, obfuscation exacerbate a crisis – Weiner was shown to be lying – repeatedly. Reminds me of the schoolyard mantra “Liar. Liar pants on fire!” Obfuscation (diverting attention to something else, avoiding) and avoidance were his modus operandi. And he became increasingly evasive as the crisis unfolded.
- Body Language never lies – tone was aggressive, eyes were wondering all the over the place, he couldn’t stop talking. Typically, those who lie tend to keep talking and talking – as if to convince themselves they are telling the truth.
What Weiner did wrong?
- Lied – dirty little secrets will always be found out. Lesson: If you “stuff-up, fess up” and do it quickly, succinctly, state your actions and stop talking.
- Lacked credibility as spokesperson – no compassion, empathy for his key stakeholders (e.g. Congress), instead a blatant disregard for the Office. Lesson: Spokespeople need to be consistent, credible, compassionate.
- Lack of a consistent, clear message – no real thought neither planning had gone into what he was going to say or, indeed, do. No (clear) strategy and certainly no training. Lesson: Media Training is a must – it teaches discipline.
- Spoke too much – undisciplined. His press conference on June 6 was excruciating to watch. It is very important to stop talking after you have made your key point. Lesson: Learn to “zip the lip.”
- Reckless, arrogant behavior – the lesson never sinks in. There is no true privacy or confidentiality on-line, especially in the social media. Bad behavior will, in the end, not to be tolerated. His “aberration” went on for three years, and if not detected, might still be going on. Thanks to you Mr. Breitbart. Lesson: Ethics and good manners matter; think before you post.
Weiner’s scandal has revealed a few “smoldering issues” and some home-truths
Research shows that 75% of crises can be avoided. They are, typically, the result of “smoldering issues” where bad behavior, bad policies, bad decisions have been hidden, “swept under the carpet.” Something happens and a crisis is triggered.
- In your-face, bully-type behavior really isn’t liked nor tolerated.
- As Bob Cesca said in a recent Huffington Post “despite American Puritanical origins and hopeless contradictions regarding sexuality, Americans LOVE sex scandals more than we love big cars, big guns, big houses.”
- There is real anger amongst the American middle class about bad boys behaving badly. Recent polls have shown how angry Americans are. (A new Newsweek/Daily Beast poll finds that Americans are angry about…pretty much everything. From President Obama to congressional Republicans to even God (who has a 33 percent approval rating), everyone needs to watch out for an angry mob coming their way.)
- There is no true privacy or confidentiality on-line. EVERYTHING is discoverable. Teenagers know this. 46 year old Members of Congress should know this!
- All crises have triggering events. All crises have “back-stories.” What stories will people tell about you, your industry, your brand when the crisis hits?
Finally, never lie and attempt a cover-up – you will always be caught out. The political pundits were in agreement that it was not the sextexting so much that worried most of the House as much it was the outright lies. Couple the cover-ups with stupid, naïve, and embarrassing behavior – Weiner had to go.
The ex-Congressman also lacked the essential “dollars in the trust bank.” He was not the most popular amongst his House colleagues. As Dana Bash, CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent remarked “he did not have the greatest relationship” with the House. There was “no huge reservoir of goodwill” with the implication that Weiner did too much grandstanding.
You need friends, not foes, in a crisis. There were too many Democrats, who came out and publicly spoke against him, even President Obama. Weiner was proving to be a distraction.
Principal of Jane Jordan & Associates, a boutique training, coaching and advisory firm, Jane is a high-stakes communication and media coach with more than two decades of experience in working with executive management in both the government and the private sectors. Most of Jane’s work is in crisis management training with senior and executive management. Jane has taught at Masters and undergraduate levels at prestigious communication schools in Australia and is a frequent guest lecturer and speaker at conferences, workshops and seminars around the globe.. Her book on crisis media management, The Four Highly Effective Stages of Crisis Management: How to Manage the Media in the Digital Age was released in May, 2011. Jane can be networked with through her LinkedIn profile and on Twitter @janejordanmeier.