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Seven Ways to Bungle Your Crisis Response

Seven Ways to Bungle Your Crisis Response
(and your career if you’re in charge when it happens)

by Jim Lukaszewski

For more than 40 years I have been teaching and pleading about ways to handle crises effectively. Given that the number of crises has remained the same during that time frame, I’m going to take a different approach.

But first, let me share my philosophy about crisis management and mismanagement.

How Problems Become Crises

All crises begin as smaller, manageable organizational or leadership problems. Problems migrate into crises for three crucial reasons:

  1. Management ignores problematic issues in their formative stages before actual crises begin happening.
  2. All crises create victims, and they are intentionally ignored, and often defensively attacked. It is a behavior that is learned both in management school and as a practice by upper-level managers and leaders. I refer to this often as “cohort domination.” It’s like calling your cohort member or mom before you call the fire department.
  3. Knowing intuitively what the correct steps are likely to be, but refusing to go in that direction, because it’s irritating, it’s an admission of failure, or you want to try something.

The major lesson of more than 40 years of helping smart people and people who should know better reduce or eliminate their bungling is simply this:

  • All questionable, inappropriate, unethical, unconscionable, immoral, predatory, improper, victim-producing, and criminal behaviors are intentional.
  • All ethical, moral, compassionate, decent, civil, and lawful behaviors are also intentional.
  • The choice is always available, always clear, and always up to those in charge.
  • Unconscionable intentions, behaviors, actions, decisions, those that vilify, damage, demean, dismiss, diminish, humiliate, express anger and irritation, demand or bully, are mean, negative, insulting, disrespectful, disparaging, tone deaf, without empathy, that intentionally injure, accuse, overbear, are punitive, harmfully restrictive, and exceed the boundaries of decency, civility, and integrity, all are unethical because the intention is to harm the target of the behaviors.

The Seven Intentional Bungles

  1. Remaining Silent: It feels good to stick it to the media, its okay to look like a perpetrator, and smart people will admire this approach. Even though there will be criticism, Ill take that risk. The risk is taken because the odds are only 50/50 that the situation will even be seen as a crisis.
  2. Stalling: Look, doing nothing is equal in potential outcomes to doing something. Even though there will be difficulty in explaining why it took so long to talk, to explain, to respond, to care for victims, you’re tired of having people you don’t know (particularly the media) fail to commiserate with your problems about which they know absolutely nothing.
  3. Denial, Denial, Denial: Taking action is too often a demonstration of weakness and lack of confidence. You cant let a bunch of questionable victims, people you don’t believe, and money grabbers dictate your response activities and those of your organization.
  4. Ignore the Complainers: Reporters and activists are bellyachers and make things up. People fail to take into consideration all the things we contribute to the economy–jobs and opportunity. The victims just want money and attention, which they haven’t earned and do not deserve. We are real Victims, too. Why don’t the media and our critics see that?
  5. Testosterosis: My attorney is right to suggest that we need to punch back rather than cop out. Refusing to give in to specious demands, especially to people who simply have uninformed views, is a legitimate management response. Landing the first punch will keep them off-balance and make them go away faster.
  6. Being Decisive: If we appear to take responsibility, bad things are going to happen to us. We will look like weaklings to our industry, colleagues, and cohort. We don’t want to be the one to set a precedent that burdens the industry or triggers copycat behaviors.
  7. There Are Worse Perpetrators: The real culprits must be defined as people who can and should take the blame for whats happening. It cant be us. No one is going to be allowed to stick this on me, or on my company. Who is looking for them?

There are many more eligible bungles; but do even one or two of these listed above, and your crisis status will only accelerate and become more complex.

One thing you should know for sure: if this is your approach, management by bungling, expect irreparable, permanent damage to your reputation, at least while you’re still in charge. The more of these behaviors that you emulate or persist in replicating, the lower the chances for your survival. However, its very likely you’ll receive a significant bonus for your departure, your inconvenience, and your silence. The people you don’t respect will be left behind to suffer, to wallow through the aftermath, while you take a great vacation, start working your network, receive a great reception from your alma mater/business school, be quoted by business magazines and media commentators, and find another organization that welcomes you aboard with a big signing bonus.


Jim Lukaszewski is the author of Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication: What Your CEO Needs to Know About Reputation Risk and Crisis Management.

In this industry-defining book on crisis communication and leadership recovery, Jim Lukaszewski jump-starts the discussion by clearly differentiating a crisis from other business interruption events and introduces a concept rarely dealt with in crisis communication and operational response planning: managing the victim dimension of crisis.

lukaszewski-on-crisis-communication-rothstein-publishingJames E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA teaches you exactly what to do, what to say, when to say it, and when to do it while the whole world is watching: stop creating victims; communicate effectively with all stakeholders; prevent lawsuits; and reduce the negative impact of media hounds and activists. All supported by case studies and real-life examples, by trusted advisor to CEOs and practitioner/trainer named among the 100 Top Thought Leaders of 2013 by Trust Across America; profiled in Living Legends of American Public Relations; listed in Corporate Legal Times as one of “28 Experts to Call When All Hell Breaks Loose.”

He’s also co-author of the new book, The Decency Code: The Leader’s Path to Building Integrity and Trust.