Forget trying to “Control the Narrative”. Leading through a crisis is about taking ownership, clear communication, and talking to people like they’re adults.
If you look at current events, communication is being substituted for leadership. PR professionals have gotten ingrained in organizations and are muddling down messages. When a crisis happens, they try to diffuse it or craft a narrative that paints them in the most favorable light.
Coronavirus is an example of this. The effort to use narrative to manipulate the public is clear. You see this cover-your-ass approach within corporate leadership as well. When a CEO needs to lead a group through difficult times, narrative-crafting has become the answer.
Boeing recently had the 737 MAX problem and didn’t own it. They tried to hide and minimize it, and it just dragged on. They tried to massage the narrative—instead of owning it and laying out a plan.
During a crisis, some leaders have the tendency to push it away and try to buy more time to figure out the right response. But we all admire somebody who will stand up and tell the truth, especially when it sucks to tell it.
The number one thing is you’ve got to know your message—and you’ve got to practice it. If a crisis happens that affects you directly, then step in and own it. Get to it early and take full responsibility. Explain what happened and what you’re going to do next. Once you have people’s attention, don’t patronize them or treat them like children. Don’t give them buzzwords or slogans.
If the crisis doesn’t directly impact your business, look for ways to contribute.
Attention is the most difficult thing to gain for anyone. When you have it—whether it’s for a “good” reason or “bad” reason—don’t hide from it. You don’t get it often, and you don’t know when it’s going to come again. So, use it properly.