Anthony David Weiner, the U.S. Representative for New York's 9th congressional district, has been in the news of late. I‘m flabbergasted that a guy with a name like Smuckers would do anything to associate himself with the particular body part that shares his mis-pronounced surname. (For the record, “wein” in German, meaning wine, is pronounced “vine” not “veen.” The “er” means “of the,” which may explain his poor judgment). In his stage act, the drag comedian, Dame Edna, picks a woman from the audience and says to her, “Oh, my dear. You have obviously given a great deal of thought to that outfit. What were you thinking?” Oh, my dear, Mr. Weiner.
To students of crisis management, this guy has offered up a perfect case -history, videos and dissections of which will be common in PR and MBA programs for decades. The lesson is simple: don’t do anything he did after he did what he did. The crisis, you see, was not the discovery of pictures of his body parts in the hands of nubile nymphs across the nation. The crisis, entirely of his own making, began when he lied.
A couple of years ago, I participated in a seminar with Bob Woodward, who has been chronicling, since breaking the Watergate scandal, the stupid behavior of powerful men. (See TIME magazine’s recent piece, The Caligula Effect: Why Powerful Men Compulsively Cheat for some fascinating reading on the subject.)
Someone asked Woodward, “As a reporter, what do you want to hear when a company or public figure makes a mistake?” “The only acceptable answer,” he replied: “We did it, we’re sorry and we’ve taken steps to make sure that we never do it again.” An earlier author who went by the name of John, said it another way, “The truth will set you free.”
Eastern philosophers (and Werner Erhard, as I recall), expressed the concept underlying modern-day crisis management in two principles: “resistance causes persistence” and “re-creation causes disappearance.” Resistance in a crisis situation can take many forms, such as not answering a reporter’s questions or denying something in plain evidence like, oh I don’t, say a picture of you in your underwear. What happens when you don’t answer a reporter’s question? Why, the question persists until it is re-created, that is, answered. Once answered, the question disappears.
Crisis management, as it turns out, is really very basic, a lesson that bears re-visiting from time to time. Tell the truth and fix the problem. Yes, my dear Mr. Weiner.