Baseball gives Lesson in Crisis Management
Default to type is critical for success or failure…
Major league first baseman, Aubrey Huff gave us all a salutary reminder as to why it’s important to train, test and validate your skills BEFORE a crisis hits.
Huff, who the starting first baseman for the San Francisco Giants, was put into a critical position at second base – a position he has never played in his career of over 10,000 innings – at a vital stage of the Giants game against the New York Mets on April 21. The leadership – in this case, Manager Bruce Bochy, who described his decision as “desperate,” made the play when the game was in the critical ninth inning. The gamble back-fired – badly. Huff, needless to say, de-faulted to type. He played to his experience, his training, what he was familiar with. As he said: “My first instinct my whole life (he’s 35) is when a ball is hit to my right, I move toward first. That’s what I did.”
That’s what can and will happen in a crisis! People default to type. That might be their language, their character, or their values. For example, if someone has English as their second language, and say Chinese or Spanish as their first, they are highly likely to revert to their first language and forget even the basic words of English during a crisis.
Of course we all want our leaders to default to the right type in a crisis – to shine, not fail. Unfortunately, there are more examples of the latter than the former. Let’s look at two examples – Michael McCain – Maple Foods in Canada and Tony Hayward, former head of BP.
Michael McCain was CEO of Maple Foods in August 2008 when a Listeria outbreak linked to their products caused 12 deaths. Throughout that crisis McCain’s values were on display – he shone as a leader, demonstrating the essential characteristics of a spokesperson. His values were steadfast – he put his audience before the company – “ our actions are guided by putting public safety first … we remain steadfast in our belief that our actions must continue to be guided by what is in the best interests of public health … our management will be motivated by one thing only – the best public health interests of Canadians.”
Compare his actions to Tony Hayward the now ex-head of BP. His now-infamous statement “We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused their lives. There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back” showed very clearly his values. Perhaps he had been in the chair for too long, but under duress his true colors shone through. That single statement undermined all the hard work of the 25,000-plus hard-working employees of BP.
McCain still has his job, as President and CEO of Maple Foods. The same job he had in 2008 when he and his company were under the intense spotlight of the global media.
A person’s underlying values helps provide the direction of communication and actions that will influence and motivate staff and stakeholders alike. Vales are strong internal beliefs that guide individual decisions and actions. And in times of crisis, it is both the individual and the company’s values that are on display – will they mesh?
How will you know they will mesh – well, test them.
I advocate rigorous media training and coaching for anyone who is being considered for the top dog role. If your organization is in a high-profile industry then quarterly “tests” will be important; for everyone else at least annually. This is the only way you can get an idea of how your key leaders will react in a crisis and avoid an Aubrey Huff “desperate” gamble, that may just backfire and you will be “blood on the floor.”
Please check out my book for more case studies..
Highly Effective Crisis Management