Here’s a simple message to organizations and their communication leaders: Don’t lie. Simple. People don’t like liars. Dishonesty will be rewarded with complete lack of trust. And that will cause you endless problems.
Case in point: Clay Bennett and the Seattle Supersonics. Bennett, a businessman from Oklahoma, bought the Sonics from Howard Schulz of Starbucks fame. Bennett said he would keep the team in Seattle but if he couldn’t because of concerns about recently renovated Key Arena, he would move them to Oklahoma.
Obviously a huge stir in Seattle. The legislature and city turned down very expensive demands from Bennett for public funding of a new arena. All the while Bennett is loudly claiming to the NBA and Seattle that he is doing all he can to keep the team in Seattle. And while he is doing this, he is writing emails to his buddies back in Oklahoma telling them to “hang in with me boys” and that they’ll get this team to Oklahoma soon.
As expected, the public airing of these private emails has created a sensation in Seattle. The Governor is all over the news saying: “We’ve all been lied to. I’m shocked, I’m very disappointed.”
King 5 TV sports anchor, Paul Silvi, has gone a lot further. Last night he aired a video combining a replaying of the damning emails along with music that repeated “liar, liar.” And he put out commentary saying that there is no way the NBA should allow this kind of “fungus” to infect their group which is already suffering from credibility problems.
Seattle is exploring all their legal options to keep the team in Seattle, but those seem doomed to fail. It comes down to the NBA and so far they have seemed cautiously supportive of Bennett’s intention to move the team. Now he has really stepped in it big time. Suddenly Sonic fans have the leverage they never had legally or politically to put the pressure on Bennett. And that lever is a few emails that Bennett never believed would see the light of day.
Lesson 1: Don’t lie.
Lesson 2: If you are going to be as stupid, devious, deceptive and fungal as Bennett is, then for Pete’s sake, don’t use email.
The mine collapse in Utah is perfect stuff for cable news. There’s the drama of following how close the shaft they are drilling is getting to the workers and the opportunity to break in with breaking news every time there is the slightest new development. As a result, the president of the company is getting lots of face time on cable news. In fact, several times last night Soledad O’Brien commented on Bob Murray, I believe, putting a face on this event. I will admit, on first glance, not being too impressed with the “face” they were putting on this event. But I have changed my tune. Mr. Murray, while admittedly not photogenic and obviously tired, in my view is a very impressive spokesperson for the company. He is the president and that is critically important. The company is not running and hiding from the scrutiny and the obvious circus environment this entertainment-based opportunity provides the cable news providers. He is almost ubiquitous. He provides details that are relevant and bordering on the too technical because it is clear he is a mining guy and knows what it is to be in the trenches, or shafts. He is sad and sober, empathetic with the families. His care worn appearance is appropriate when he talks about being at it for four days straight, we believe him. He has obvious patience with the media and their questions and expresses it.
So, for all of us media trainers who want to put a pretty face on such an event, there is a lesson here. Good job, Mr. Murray. You are earning your pay in these troubled days.
Are there two more powerful words in the world? “I’m sorry.” When these words are said with sincerity and the sincerity is proven by action, these words can change everything. They are an essential part of the new world of authenticity and transparency. The truth is people screw up and make mistakes. Our litigious society has made it very very dangerous to admit to making mistakes and accept responsibility. But something else is going on as well. People are realizing that credibility in these days is based on full disclosure, complete honesty and the full acceptance of responsibility.
This story from the New York Times about foundations admitting the failure of grants is a great example the growing trend toward painful honesty, and the value of participating in it. Here’s the concluding sentence: “Foundations are supposed to take risks,” Mr. Brest said. “Sure, it’s better to tell your success stories, but there’s no harm in sharing our failures, too. The only thing at stake is our egos.”
Unfortunately, this comment shows that while the trend is good, there is a lack of understanding of why it is so important. Mr. Brest says there is no harm in sharing our failures. Actually, there is. Failures are still failures. The only reason to show them is because the harm in not showing them comes from the sense of covering up what should be made visible. Don’t kid yourself. Talking about your mistakes doesn’t change the fact that they are mistake. Doing so doesn’t necessarily make you look good. It just keeps you from looking a whole lot worse if that mistake is discovered and made visible by others because then you can be charged with cover-up, with dishonesty, with not being trust worthy. The real mistake Mr. Brest makes here, however, is in the last sentence. No, Mr. Brest, the only thing at stake is not your egos. It is your credibility. And if you lose that, you can just lose the whole enterprise. That is the point.