Paula Deen lesson: where there’s smoke, there ain’t necessarily bacon frying

The Paula Deen story is another sad tale. I tend to want to wait a bit for these things to play out before trying to decipher the lessons to be learned. But my friend and colleage Bill Boyd on his blog– typically more focused on emergency (government) communications– has some great insights (plus entertaining writing) that I just had to share.

This story bears similarity to Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Lindsay Lohan, Reese Witherspoon and a number of others. Aside from the fact that they are all celebrities, I would say that most of these crises were inevitable–they had to happen. Why, because they are crises of character and we live in an age of transparency. Bad things are going to come out–its almost inevitable. Lance thought he could cheat for a long time and bully his opponents because he thought he was untouchable due to his remarkable story and success. Tiger thought he could cheat as well.

M.L. King, Jr said the day would come when we are judged not by the color of our skin but the content of our character. It seems perhaps that day has come. Paula is a great cook and an endearing personality–but she revealed some of her true nature and that part is pretty ugly. Apologies, no matter how badly bungled in editing, come across as pretty weak when you say that saying some things is totally unacceptable when you have done it for years.

Character does matter today. I’m grateful that we still live in a world in which rich, interesting people with loads of celebrity talent can’t just do and say anything they please without paying a price. The real lesson of crisis management in these stories is really to boards and senior leaders: be vigilant about the people in whom you place your trust. I mentioned on the crisis show the anecdote from former GE CEO Jack Welch interviewed by David Feherty on the Golf Channel. He told about golfing with one of his senior execs when Jack caught him cheating–just a little, like kicking his ball for a better lie. Jack fired him. If he couldn’t trust him to play the game straight, how could he trust him with the reputation of his company. That’s a guy that understands character.

 

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