Watching Trump carries lessons for us all, especially for practitioners in Crisis PR. If your boss doesn’t have values grounded in solid foundations, beware.

That doesn’t for a minute mean that all strong-valued bosses are good leaders. That’s different. No matter how many ‘How To’ books are read, leadership is mostly learned the hard way, from passion and experimentation, mainly from mistakes, and then maybe never. If you get a boss with values similar to your own, stick with it.

Bosses who aren’t grounded in good values are a danger to the people around them. Without good-quality values and well-rehearsed behaviours, their decisions are made to fit the moment. Examples are everywhere, within families, in the churches, in business, in charity, and most visibly, in politics. It leads to the flip-flop behaviour we’re seeing in the White House – contradictory decision making.

That’s why in a crisis, when there is very high stress, we Crisis PR practitioners ask leaders to refer back to their values (Personal Messages).

Daily, Trump is damaging the reputations of the people around him (Rod Rosenstein Fails His Ethics Test). Most employees are loyal and will compromise their integrity to varying degrees. Even from this distance what’s happening in Washington is terrible to watch.

I was asked by a senior Australian executive in a large company how he should approach a serious potential crisis within his area of responsibility. There was low risk of an accident, but with disastrous pollution consequences. A Crisis PR nightmare destroying reputations. His seniors were aware of it, but wouldn’t authorise a fix. We mapped out a plan that included a polite verbal conversation, followed by a diplomatic email, then a more strident one, then a repeat with people higher up; then, if no suitable outcome, find another job.  If his values were so different from his bosses, he needed to move on.

As a journalist, I used to categorise people who had done the wrong thing (journos are forced to make quick character judgements before deadline, with instant feedback from the public once the story is published. After years of multiple stories, many learn from their successes and mistakes to pick patterns of behaviour).

  • A good person displays strong values evident in phrases – accidental or intentional – during a conversation. He/she will try and right a wrong.
  • A conman has poor values, low integrity, often concealed but revealed in the odd phrase. Despite a crime, he/she believes he might get away with it with a lie.
  • A crook, zero values, knows too well when he’s been busted. Won’t be interviewed.

Yes, I know, it’s a flawed diagnostic tool, but it’s amazing how often it was accurate. It’s one reason, I think, we see so many conmen on TV. And you see it all on display in politics.

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