I myself was a guest-blogger when I graduated two years ago from the program. (See A 10-C Model for Apologies here.) And it is my great honor to become a Capstone advisor and contribute to the program.
In her capstone, Stella Zhao analyzed corporate apologies in terms of wording, tone and body language. She compared different apology styles in the U.S., China, and Japan and came up with customized recommendations. As she notes, apology is not only about communication but also about anthropology. You can read the entire capstone here.
Stella Danqing Zhao
Through the Looking Glass:
A Cross-cultural Study on Proper Usages of Verbal and Nonverbal Elements in Corporate Apology Speeches – Guest Blog By Stella Danqing Zhao
My thesis is a study on different apology styles regarding wording, tone, and body language in the U.S., China, and Japan. The wording part mainly focused on IFIDs of each country, which means “Illocutionary Force Indicating Device”, also known in this case as the key apologetic words. The body language part focused on the eye contact, facial expression, gesture, posture, and also a particular way of apologizing – bowing.
The study contains two parts – study and survey. In the case study part, nine cases, three from each country, are analyzed to find the common apologetic words, tone, and body languages:
2015 Shenzhen Landslide:
Sixth Naphtha Cracking Plant:
Rikuentai Bus Company:
Tokyo Electric Power Company:
In the survey part, a survey was distributed and assembled using the survey software Qualtrics. Participants were first asked to answer a few questions on corporate apologies to see their general perceptions regarding wording, tone, and body language. After this part, they were shown two corporate public apology speech videos – one from Volkswagen, the other from Toshiba. To exclude the influence of participant’s knowledge of certain language, they were asked to focus only on the nonverbal part and answered a few questions regarding on the tone and the body langue of the two speakers.
Based on the case studies and the survey, several similarities and differences were found between the perspectives of the audiences from those three countries. Therefore, we can have some recommendations on different apology styles in each country.
In the U.S., the most common IFIDs are “sorry” and “apologize”. According to the survey, people believe that the word “apologize” is more effective than the word “sorry”, but both of them can be used based on different situation. When using apologetic words, adverbs such as “sincerely” can be used to strengthen the tone. Honorific words are not extremely necessary and the speech can be informal to some degree, but it should still be written clearly and express regrets.
A consensus between the three countries is that the tone of an apology speech should be regretful, humble, and empathetic. However, in the U.S., people can accept a more firm, positive, and confident apology. It’s important to show your audience that you have the determination to fix the problem.
As to the body language, it’s important to make direct eye contact in the U.S. Avoiding direct eye contact can be seen as hiding and dishonest. The facial expression should be serious, and proper gestures can be applied. The posture should be formal but with natural movements instead of standing stiffly. Bowing is not recommended in the U.S. because it may be seen as an overreaction.
In China the common IFID is the derivatives of the word “qian (歉)” [In English: apology] such as “bao qian (抱歉)” [In English: apologize] and “dao qian (道歉)” [In English: apology/apologize] . “dui bu qi (对不起)” [In English: I am sorry] is also a common apologetic word but it’s less used in a formal corporate apology. Adverbs such as “cheng ken (诚恳)” [In English: sincerely] and “fei chang (非常)” [In English: very] can be used to show sincerity. One should also address the audiences with “nin (您)” [In English: you, but in a very respectful way, like “Your Majesty” rather than “Hey, you”], which is the honorific form of “you” in Chinese. The speech should be written in a formal style.
Besides being regretful, humble and empathetic, the tone of the apology speech should let people feel that you are somehow ashamed for the wrongdoing, which shows that you realized what you did was improper. It should also be firm without hesitation.
In China, direct eye contact is also welcomed. People can accept having a modest smile on their face, which means the facial expression doesn’t need to be blank or stiff. Proper gestures can be applied, and the posture should be as formal as possible. Although bowing is not required in apology speeches in China, it is recommended to show more sincerity.
In Japan, there are strict requirements for the choice of apologetic words. Using informal IFIDs such as “sumimasen(すみません)” [In English: Excuse me] and “gomen nasai(ごめんなさい)” [In English: apologize in daily setting] can be seen as a mistake. IFIDs such as “moushiwage gozaimasen (申し訳ございません)” [In English: apologize in professional setting] and “owabi shimasu (お詫びします)” [In English: apologize in professional setting] are recommended. One can use multiple apologetic words in one apology to make it stronger. Using adverbs such as “fukaku (深く)” [In English: deeply] and “hontoni (本当に)” [In English: truly] are also a good way to show sincerity. Honorific form of the words is required in a formal apology.
In Japan, the tone of the apology speech should be more “negative”, meaning it should be more sad, regretted other than positive and confident. It’s better to show you remorse for bringing other people trouble.
Direct eye contact is not recommended when apologizing to Japanese people. Lowering the head can show your regrets and humble. A smile is strongly prohibited. Although in the survey the respondents didn’t disagree with using gestures, they are seldom found in previous apology speeches. Usually, Japanese people stand in a very formal posture with their hands beside their body. Bowing is required and can be applied multiple times according to different situations.
Derivatives of “qian” (歉)
“fei chang” (非常)
“cheng ken” (诚恳)
The table above briefly summarizes how wording, tone, and body language shape public perceptions of corporate apologies, and how apology style differs in U.S., China and Japan. Reflecting on a better understanding of how stakeholders think and feel can help a leader, and those who advise the leader, to more likely craft an apology that will work.
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I myself was a guest-blogger when I graduated two years ago from the program. (See A 10-C Model for Apologies here.) And it is my great honor to become a Capstone advisor and contribute to the program.
In her capstone, Erna Li conducted analysis on the China-born e-commerce company Alibaba and compared it to American e-commerce company Amazon in terms of social media and business model aspects to learn best practices. She focused on the challenge of building messages that resonate as the companies expand from just domestic online shopping platforms to global online retailers. You can read the entire capstone here.
Communication in E – Commerce: Guest Blog by Erna Li
Online shopping in a cash-based country could be a dream to a teenager. I still remember the excitement of winning the first bid for a backpack on eBay at my senior high school in China. After shopping online for over ten years and learning public relations/communication for six years, I realized how important it will be if e-commerce companies could strategically convey messages to their target audiences. They need to send out the right messages at the right time via an appropriate channel.
We assumed that communication would be easy for of e-commerce companies compared to other industries, because e-commerce is online, global, and almost everywhere. However, successful e-commerce companies face unexpected challenges when they try to expand to other territories. They need strategic communication to overcome challenges that occur in international environments.
Alibaba Case Study: Born in China, Created for the World
Alibaba is an enormous China-founded e-commerce company. This company powers 80% of online commerce in China. From flight ticket reservation to fresh fruit delivery, consumers are able to find most kinds of services they need. At the end of December 2014, Alibaba had almost 334 million active buyers on its website. Such success would not have been possible without a social media and public relations campaign.
Alibaba Corporate Communication Strategy: Domestic Shopping Day to Global Shipping Festival
Each November 11th since 2009, Alibaba has launched a domestic online shopping celebration campaign. The date is well known in China as Single’s Day — the date’s number eleven represents people who are single. Initially, the idea was for singles to celebrate their freedom and independence. Now, it is also an excuse to shop. People are more than welcomed to shop online whether or not they are single.
The above image is a screenshot of the Alibaba website. It says that all merchandise is available for at least a 50% discount on November 11th. Every year the discount theme is similar. Before 2014, Alibaba’s corporate message was about the discount and coupons. After Alibaba went through 2014 IPO, Alibaba changed its message and emphasized its global shipping services. The target audience is mostly the Chinese who live overseas. That is to say, Alibaba upgraded its shipping from purely domestic to global. However, Alibaba’s website is not available in English, which could limit participation of the international buyers in the Global Shipping Festival.
With their successful public relations and social media campaign, Singles Day in 2015 reached e-commerce sales to $9.8 billion. The chart above shows how Single Day’s revenue in China was more than all sales volume during the U.S. shopping holidays in 2014.
Barron’s, an American weekly stock market-focused newspaper, posted an analysis “A Hot Stock Turns Cold.” As the first chart shows, Alibaba’s stock has kept dropping since December 2015. The price reached its peak in November, which also suggests that Global Shipping Day campaign remains an important date for the company.
Situation analysis – Map impact and likelihood
I have learned the following chart from the crisis management perspective during the crisis communication course in 2015. Since then I tried to apply it in other business communication settings.
The above chart says that the most likely/ already happened is the stock price decline. The major impact of dropping stock is investment lost and negative influence on financial performance. The possible critical impact is that Alibaba might lose some investors. The major possible impact is that Alibaba’s credibility is criticized and questioned. Wall Street Journal, BBC, Fortune, Reuters and other media outlets might state the controversy from different angles. The critical remote impact on Alibaba is that the declining stock could cause public concerns and shareholders’ disappointment.
In Alibaba’s case, there are two main reasons behind the scene that led to the stock slide.
Alibaba has strong domestic and overseas competitors. JD.com is a Chinese e-commerce company based in Beijing. It is one of the largest B2C online retailers. Another strong oversea competitor is Amazon. As Amazon has been in the e-commerce industry for decades, it has stable customer resources and deep understanding of the market. Even some of the Alibaba’s business models are learned from Amazon.
A controversy regarding potentially counterfeit products sold through Alibaba has led to negative visibility and stock market declines.
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I have had the privilege of teaching Marines for 25 years.
Of all the teaching I do, it’s one of my favorite things.
But as the Talmud notes, “I have learned much from my teachers; I have learned more from my colleagues; but it is from my students that I have learned the most.”
And of all whom I teach, it is the Marines from whom I have learned the most. And so have my civilian students and clients. I am a better corporate consultant and leadership coach because of what I have learned from teaching Marines. And the more I teach the more I learn.
My teaching Marines started almost by accident.
In 1991, in my fourth year on the NYU faculty, I was teaching a continuing education course on Spokesmanship: How to Be an Effective Spokesperson. And I had a student, Walter, who was different from his classmates. Most were in their 20s. Walter had gray hair. Most were already working in PR. Walter was a Marine, just back from the first Iraq war, where he had flown helicopters in combat. He had reached an age when he had to give up flying, but he wasn’t ready to retire. So he was assigned to the New York Public Affairs office. Walter was to start his new billet in September, and was taking my summer course to get a head start – very much like a Marine.
Earlier that year I had written an article for the journal PR Quarterly (pdf). In it I reflected that the U.S. military had been guided in the war by the principles of the Nineteenth-Century military strategist Carl von Clausewitz. I noted that just as the military applied those principles in fighting the war, the Pentagon communication office had applied the principles in their public communication about the war:
“Once the touchstone of most Western military strategy, Clausewitz fell out of favor in the late 1950s, replaced by social scientists who brought us systems analysis, gradual escalation and attrition, body counts, and other sins of the Vietnam era.
In the Gulf war, Clausewitz emerged not only on the battlefield; he was also in the briefing room. We won not only the air war and the ground war; we won the battle for public opinion. A close reading of Clausewitz… provides a context for understanding both the military victory in the Gulf and the PR efforts that contributed to it.”
Walter showed the article to his commanding officer. My mentor Jim Lukaszewski, who taught Marines, had earlier recommended me to the same person.
The commanding officer called and invited me to teach at an annual meeting of newly-named Marine commanders – lieutenant colonels and colonels – who would gather in New York for a week of public affairs training. I taught my first Marine in October, 1991. I have taught at every New York Public Affairs Symposium ever since.
The United States Marine Corps is the nation’s crisis response force. The tip of the spear. It’s ready to deploy anywhere, any time, on any mission.
The Marine Corps is also a leadership factory. It instills qualities of initiative, teamwork, and dedication to mission. It pushes accountability down to the bottom of the chain of command, even as it holds leaders at the very top of the chain accountable for their subordinates’ decisions. Marines follow orders, but not blindly. Commander’s intent is an essential part of an order. Understanding a commander’s intent is the responsibility of each Marine. And making that intent clear is the responsibility of each commander, of whatever rank.
In 2001, about two months before the 9/11 attacks, I attended a Marine Corps capabilities exercise in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. It was intended to show visiting dignitaries, mostly staff of congressional committees, the range of Marines’ ability to fight in many forms.
We saw, among other things:
A HALO (High-Altitude Low Opening) parachute drop where, to avoid detection, Marines dropped from very high altitude, virtually unseen, and opened their parachutes just above the tree line.
A beach landing of many amphibious landing craft, with beach masters guiding the arriving Marines as they left their craft, riding on armored personnel carriers and deploying on foot.
Marine fighter jets strafing the beach ahead of the arriving landing craft.
A simulated helicopter rescue of a downed pilot.
A hostage rescue in a simulated U.S. embassy.
A chemical weapons decontamination exercise.
A riverine assault with Marines arriving on fast rubber inflatable boats.
An infantry, armored, and air assault of a simulated urban combat environment; Marines taking a city.
It was all wildly impressive. But what impressed me more was something that happened during this capabilities exercise.
It was July, in swampy North Carolina. It was over 100 degrees, and very humid. The dignitaries were beginning to wilt. We arrived at a large field kitchen serving lunch to the hundreds of Marines.
I saw one of my contacts, a captain from the New York public affairs unit, speaking casually to some other officers. They invited me to get on the chow line. I asked whether they had eaten yet. They very matter-of-factly replied, “No, we’ll eat later.” I asked, “Aren’t you hungry?” One of the other officers replied, “We don’t eat until the enlisted Marines have eaten.” I asked, “Why not?” He responded, “Officers eat last.”
Officers Eat Last
I was taken aback. I work primarily in a corporate environment, where the idea that the senior leaders defer their own benefits to the junior ranks is not common. But I learned that it is an essential element of Marine Corps leadership. Marine leadership has two goals: 1) Accomplish the mission; 2) Attend to the welfare of your Marines.
This one human gesture, officers eat last, captured for me the essential nature of the Marines.
A Learning Organization
The Marine Corps is also at its heart a learning organization.
When they are not deployed Marines are in school. The Corps has dozens of schools, plus other professional military education programs. And an active reading program.
In 2006, during a break while teaching at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College in Quantico, Virginia, I wandered into the bookstore. There I discovered the Commandant’s Reading List; more than 100 titles. And as I ran through the books, I noticed some interesting things. First, many were sharply critical of the U.S. military, and of the U.S. intervention in Iraq. I was impressed that the Commandant would encourage Marines to read books by critics. Second, the books covered a broad expanse of subject matter, from history to culture to biography.
That book itself arose from my visit to the bookstore that day. In the store I found a slim volume called Warfighting: U.S. Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication No. 1. It’s required reading for every Marine. It lays out an approach to strategy and leadership that informs what all Marines do. Think of it as the Marine Corps Bible. And it is extremely well-written.
Flying home on the shuttle, I couldn’t put the book down. As I read, I realized that by changing just a few words in Warfighting l could create a conceptual framework to help civilian leaders develop a much richer and deeper understanding of effective public communication.
I decided to assign Warfighting, requiring students to read it before the first class. When I sent the syllabus to the department it raised a few eyebrows. But to his credit the academic director gave me the green light, and I posted the syllabus online.
In the first class, before discussing the book, I polled the students:
How many were confused when they saw that the first book in a communication strategy course was a Marine Corps book called Warfighting?
Nearly every hand went up.
How many were concerned?
Most hands stayed up.
How many were angry?
About a third of the hands stayed up.
How many are still angry after reading the book?
All hands came down.
I found the most counter-culture-seeming student who had just put her hand down, and asked, “Why were you angry when you saw the syllabus?” She looked me in the eye and said “I thought you were going to feed us propaganda, try to get us to like the military, to support the war in Iraq.” And now? She smiled, and said, “I love this book. I have given copies to my parents and friends. I want to know why we don’t know more about this book.” Some years after graduating, that student joined the NYU faculty, teaching the same course.
I used Warfighting for five years afterward, and not only in my NYU classroom. I used it in strategy boot camps for the public affairs department of a major insurance company, the communication staff of a large pharmaceutical company, and even with clergy and not-for-profit executives, sometimes to their initial discomfort. I urged individual CEOs, CFOs, and other corporate leaders to read it to help them both to think strategically and to communicate effectively.
In all civilian contexts, my students and clients enthusiastically embraced Warfighting, and the comments tended to cluster into these two categories:
This is one of the single most useful insights into how to be strategic in communication that I’ve ever read.
I never knew the Marines were so thoughtful.
Warfighting Deserved A Broader Audience
The usefulness of the lessons of Warfighting goes well beyond fighting wars or public affairs, but to how to think strategically. It deserved a broader audience.
So I decided to take it a step further: I asked the Marines for the adaptation rights for Warfighting, to incorporate into a book I was planning for a civilian leadership audience. The copyright was held by the Secretary of the Navy. And I asked permission to use the Marine Corps emblem, the eagle, globe, and anchor, in the book.
The Marines secured the permissions, and The Power of Communication was published in 2012.
One thing I have always been impressed by is how the Marines welcome candid feedback on what works and what doesn’t. And they institutionalize it.
Every year the Marine Corps commissions an essay that challenges Marines to perform better in the future. Past MajGen Richard C. Schulz Memorial Essayists include Jim Webb, later U.S. Senator, and Gen. Bernard Trainor, later chief military correspondent for the New York Times.
I was honored to be invited to be the 2013 Schulze essayist.
My essay was an adaptation of The Power of Communication, and it challenged Marines to see their work as winning hearts and minds as well as battles. The essay looked back at the opening moments of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and argued that Marines got the story strategically wrong.
The essay noted:
“The new battlefield is one where every action is potentially immediately public. In the battle to win the support of those who matter, both at home and in the theater of operations, Marines—from four- stars to privates fresh off of Parris Island—will have greater power than ever before, and they need to harness that power effectively. A corporal draping a flag on a statue, a handful of Marines urinating on the bodies of enemy dead, or U.S. servicemembers burning Qur’ans communicate far more loudly than any words, and they send exactly the wrong message.”
And it called on Marines up and down the chain of command to take communication as seriously as other elements of their profession.
“So the burden on commanders is high: They need to be excellent communicators in their own right, and they also need to create environments in which their Marines understand how everything they say and do—and everything they don’t say and don’t do—creates an impression that can affect the reputation of the Corps and the national security interests of the United States.”
“The next war is likely to be fought not on a field of battle, but on television, the Internet, and social media. The tip of the spear needs to be as competent in the modern arenas as in fields of fire.”
The Scope of Teaching and Consulting
Teaching at 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, NC
I first taught Marines in the New York Public Affairs Symposia. But more significant than the teaching in these individual symposia was the teaching that resulted from them.
Individual officers who were either organizers of or students in the symposia reached out to me to counsel or teach other Marine or joint military commands.
Teaching at U.S. Defense Logistics Agency
Over time I consulted with, taught, or otherwise was actively involved with a number of Marine Corps organizations, including:
U.S. Marine Corps East Coast Commanders Public Affairs Symposium, New York City: Since 1991 I have taught about 50 newly appointed commanders per year (mostly lieutenant colonels and colonels) who have assumed command East of the Mississippi river.
U.S. Marine Corps West Coast Commanders Public Affairs Symposium, Los Angeles: From 2004 to 2012 I taught about 50 newly appointed commanders per year (mostly lieutenant colonels and colonels) who have assumed command West of the Mississippi river.
U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College, Quantico, VA: I taught guest lectures on effective leadership communication and moderated media panels from 2005 to 2010.
U.S. Marine Corps Brigadier General Select Orientation Course, Washington, DC: From 2005 to the present I have taught in the orientation course for colonels who have been selected for promotion to general.
U.S. Marine Corps Officer Candidate School, Quantico, VA: I taught a guest lecture for instructors on how to teach effectively.
U.S. Marine Corps Base Quantico: I helped design and participated in training for first responders during a terrorism incident simulation.
U.S. Marine Corps Public Affairs: I consulted with a number of leaders of the public affairs function over time, both on readiness of public affairs professionals and for dealing with individual crises or issues.
II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, NC: In 2016 I taught as part of a Professional Military Education program for 250 of the senior-most leaders of II MEF, constituting about a third of all fighting Marines.
Marine Aircraft Station Cherry Point, NC: In 2016 I taught about 200 senior leaders of the 2nd Marine Air Wing.
U.S. Marine Corps Combat Service Support Schools, Camp Johnson, NC: In 2016 I taught about 300 students and faculty of the various combat support schools associated with Camp Johnson.
Teaching at U.S. Defense Information School
Marine Corps referrals also led to work advising or teaching in a number of joint commands and non-U.S. institutions, including:
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Center for Security Studies, Masters In Advanced Studies in Security Policy and Crisis Management, Zurich: From 2007 until 2015 I served on the leadership faculty of this program, essentially the outsourced instruction for the Swiss General Staff College. All but six of the students were senior officers in the Swiss, German, Austrian, or other European military or intelligence services. This appointment came as the result of a Swiss officer who had attended the Marines’ Command and Staff College recommending me to his commanding officer.
Teaching at ETH Zurich
Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, Quantico, VA: From 2004 to 2009 I and my firm served as advisors to and instructors for this joint command focusing on the development and deployment of weapons that serve as the middle ground between a bullhorn and a bullet, intended to deter but not kill an adversary.
U.S. Defense Information School, Fort George Meade, MD: Since 2012 I have been a contract teacher at this school for military public affairs officers and communicators. I teach about eight times per year, the first day in the Joint Senior Public Affairs Officer Course, mostly for lieutenant colonels, colonels, and their equivalents, and the Joint Intermediate Public Affairs Officer Course, mostly for captains and majors and their equivalents.
U.S. Defense Logistics Agency: In 2015 I taught several hundred of their logisticians.
A Family Legacy
When the Marines called and asked me to teach, the decision to answer Yes was easy. It seemed to be part of the family business.
For the 25 years before he died in 1984 my Dad was a professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He was recruited to leave his native Brazil to come to West Point, his young family in tow.
I grew up at West Point, during the Vietnam War, surrounded by people in uniform.
My Dad was an inspired and inspiring teacher. And all of the times I saw him teach he was teaching people wearing a uniform.
Dr. Frederick C.H. Garcia, 1928-1984
So teaching people in uniform seemed like a natural continuation of his work.
And now I’ve spent 25 years teaching Marines and others in the armed forces. Between the two of us, my Dad and I have 50 years of teaching people in uniform.
As immigrants to the United States, we are both honored and delighted to give back and to help build the capacities of those who defend our adopted nation.
Earlier this year I taught the senior-most Marines I have ever taught, 150+ senior leaders of II Marine Expeditionary Force, on the fifth day of their week-long Warfighting Series of Professional Military Education. The opening minutes, where I explain the adaptation of Warfighting to leadership communication, are in the video below.
Among the students were two major generals, a brigadier general, and lots of colonels and sergeants major.
At the end, the Commanding General of II MEF presented me with the commander’s coin for excellence.
I dedicate that coin to the memory of my Dad, Dr. Frederick C.H. Garcia, my first and best teacher, and to how between us we’ve taught people who wear the uniform of the United States for 50 years.
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Ten years ago today Hurricane Katrina made landfall. The rest, as they say, is history.
I won’t recount that history day-by-day here. There are plenty of special reports on TV and in the newspapers this weekend that help us see the horror as it unfolded. For a day-by-day timeline of the federal response, see Chapter 3 of The Power of Communication, or see Failure of Initiative, the final report of the U.S. House of Representatives Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina. That congressional report concluded:
“The Select Committee identified failures at all levels of government that significantly undermined and detracted from the heroic efforts of first responders, private individuals and organizations, faith-based groups, and others.”
But on the tenth anniversary of the flood, we have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of that bungled response and to re-commit to the discipline of effective crisis response. I will hit the high points (or low points) of Katrina response as teachable moments.
I monitored the hurricane and flood and then deployed to New Orleans in the second week as part of a corporate response to the disaster. I saw first hand the consequence of the government’s ineffective handling of the crisis.
The author documenting Katrina damage.
The federal government’s response to Katrina was bumbling, disorganized, and dishonest. It cost hundreds of lives. Many of the nearly 1,500 deaths in New Orleans happened in the days following the flood. Many of those were preventable.
And the bungled response cost President George W. Bush his reputation. Until Katrina, President Bush had enjoyed a job approval rating above 50 percent. He had won re-election in a tough campaign just 10 months earlier. But after Katrina his job approval fell below 50 percent and never recovered. It fell first to 42 percent and a month later to 38 percent, and was below 30 percent the following year. President Bush finished his presidency with the lowest approval ratings of any president.
That loss of trust and reputation was preventable. Because most of the bungled response was preventable.
Effective Crisis Management is a Leadership Discipline
Crisis management is the management of choices – the management of decisions that leaders make when things have the potential to go very wrong.
Effective crisis management helps leaders and organizations make critical business decisions that can prevent, mitigate, or recover from an event that threatens trust, reputation, assets, operations, and competitive position.
There is a rigor to effective crisis management that is equivalent to the rigor found in other business processes. But that rigor is often unknown, ignored, or misapplied by many leaders, to their own and their organizations’ misfortune.
That rigor includes a systematic way to think in a crisis.
Many leaders who otherwise are gifted managers – managing finance, or engineering, or marketing, or any other professional discipline, or even a whole company or government – throw rigor to the wind when a crisis emerges. Then they either make up a response on the fly or try to cobble together bits of knowledge from other parts of their experience. Or they ignore the crisis until it is too late. Or they think that their problem is one of public relations that can be rationalized away.
All of these things happened in Katrina. Indeed, from the President to the Secretary of Homeland Security to the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, there was lack of situational awareness, ineffective and dishonest assurances of an imminent response, and then denial of their own mis-steps. They focused more on saying what sounded good, but were singularly unable to deliver on the assurances they made.
August 31, 2005 — Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security, addresses the media. Photo by Ed Edahl/FEMA
Every Crisis is a Business Problem Before it is a Communication Problem
Crisis management is far more than skillful public relations. Seeing PR as the solution to a crisis is a recipe for failure.
Every crisis is a business problem before it is a communication problem, and you cannot communicate your way out of a business problem.
The government set the bar very high early in the Katrina crisis.
The day before the hurricane made landfall President Bush went on television to reassure the citizens of New Orleans and the surrounding areas. He said,
“We will do everything in our power to help the people and the communities affected by the storm.”
FEMA Director Michael Brown also reassured the public:
“FEMA is not going to hesitate at all in this storm. We’re going to move fast, we’re going to move quick, we’re going to do whatever it takes to help disaster victims.”
FEMA chief Michael Brown alongside Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, center, and U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, left.
These were the right things to say.
But simply saying them was not enough.
Regrettably, both FEMA and the larger US government, having set those expectations, spent the next week dramatically under-delivering on them. As the horror that New Orleans experienced unfolded over the next few days, the government’s lack of effective action, and the disconnect between the rhetoric and the work, defined the president and his administration.
Crises play out in an environment of emotional resonance: fear, anxiety, anger, shame, embarrassment and other, often confused, emotions. Effective crisis communication, combined with effective management of other elements of a crisis, can address and even neutralize these emotional reactions.
New Orleans flooded on August 29, 2005
Crisis Response =
Effective Action + Effective Communication
Effective crisis response consists of a carefully managed process that calibrates smart actions with smart communication.
The key to making smart choices is to use the right decision criteria – the proper basis for choice. And that means asking the right questions.
Indeed, in my experience working on and studying thousands of crises over more than 35 years, the most effectively handled crises were the ones where leaders asked the right question. Ask the right question, and the solution can become clear within a matter of minutes. But asking the right question requires mental readiness; a readiness to shift perspective and to think differently.
The Leadership Discipline of Mental Readiness
Most counter-productive crisis responses begin with leaders asking some version of What should we do? Or What should we say? The challenge with this kind of question is that it focuses on the we – on the entity or leader in crisis. This results in the consideration of options that may make the people in midst of crisis feel good. But it is unlikely to lead to what is necessary to maintain trust, confidence, and support of those people whose trust, confidence, and support are critical to the organization.
What is needed is a different kind of thinking that begins not with the I/me/we/us but rather with the they/them – with the stakeholders who matter to the organization. The leadership discipline of mental readiness – the readiness to shift frames of reference from the first person — I/me/we/us — to the third person — they/them — makes all the difference.
And that’s because of the way trust works.
Maintaining Trust: Meet Expectations
A common goal for most organizations and leaders in crises is to maintain the trust and confidence of those who matter – shareholders, employees, customers, regulators, residents, citizens, voters, etc.
Trust arises when stakeholders’ legitimate expectations are met. Trust falls when expectations are unmet.
Asking What should we do? runs the serious risk of failing even to consider stakeholders’ expectations. Worse, it further risks the leader becoming stuck in his or her own perspective, in I/me/we/us. Hence, such crisis whoppers as BP CEO Tony Hayward’s “I’d like my life back,” or even President Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook.”
Most crisis response failures can be traced back to the ultimate decision-makers focusing on their own frame of reference rather than on their stakeholders. This was the case in Katrina.
The right question to ask when determining the appropriate course of action in a crisis is not What should we do. Rather, it is this: What would reasonable people appropriately expect a responsible organization or leader to do when facing this kind of situation?
Framing decisions in light of stakeholder expectations leads to smarter choices faster, and maintains stakeholders’ trust.
For any stakeholder group we can answer the question, What would reasonable members of this stakeholder group appropriately expect a responsible organization or leader to do? to a very granular level. And at the very least, one way to determine stakeholder expectations is to reflect on the expectations we ourselves have set. So, in Katrina, President Bush set the expectation that the the federal government would do everything in its power to help the people affected by the storm. FEMA chief Michael Brown said that FEMA would not hesitate at all, but would move fast and do whatever it takes to help disaster victims.
But when FEMA was seen to be slow and to create obstacles to rapid response, and when the U.S. government was not seen to be responding or even acknowledging the gravity of the situation, trust began to fall simply because the expectations the government itself had set were not being fulfilled.
Photo by the author.
We can inventory expectations to a very granular level for each stakeholder group, and we can then work to fulfill those particular expectations.
But regardless the particular expectations of any given stakeholder group, there is a common expectation that applies to all stakeholder groups all the time: In a crisis, all stakeholders expect a responsible organization or leader to care. To care that something has happened; to care that people need help; to care that something needs to be done.
One of the common patterns in crisis is this: The single biggest predictor of loss of trust and confidence, of loss of reputation, and of financial and operational harm, is the perception that the organization or leader do not care.
So effective crisis response, at a minimum, begins with a timely demonstration of caring. And it continues with a persistent demonstration that the organization and leader continue to care, for as long as the expectation of caring exists.
This is what was sorely lacking in the government’s response to Katrina. Officials said they cared; but the tangible demonstration of caring didn’t match the rhetoric.
New Orleans flooded on a Monday. Throughout that day and Tuesday, the government kept assuring the news media that FEMA and other agencies were on the ground and helping the victims. But news coverage showed little federal presence except for U.S. Coast Guard helicopter rescues. But no staging areas for victims; no shelters; but hundreds of people, mostly African-American, struggling against the rising waters and without help. On Tuesday the news media persistently questioned why there was little evidence of federal help for the city, noting even that dead bodies continued to float by.
On that Wednesday the media not only covered the lack of a FEMA presence on the ground, but also how FEMA prevented or stalled potential aid from other sources. For example, a fourteen-car caravan arranged by the sheriff of Loudoun County, Virginia, carrying supplies of water and food, was not allowed into the city. FEMA stopped tractor trailers carrying water to the supply staging area in Alexandria, Louisiana because they did not have the necessary paperwork. CNN also reported that during the weekend before the flood Mayor Nagin had made a call for firefighters to help with rescue operations. But as firefighters from across the country arrived to help victims, they were first sent by FEMA to Atlanta for a day long training program in community relations and sexual harassment. When they arrived in New Orleans, the volunteer firefighters were permitted only to give out flyers with FEMA number, but were forbidden from engaging in rescue operations. The media reported not only the resentment felt by the first responders, but also how FEMA’s policies hurt those people who were begging for aid in New Orleans.
That day Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff held a press conference in which he said,
“We are extremely pleased with every element of the federal government, all of our federal partners, have made to this terrible tragedy.”
That day Mayor Ray Nagin went on the radio and blasted the federal government for its failure to respond quickly:
“I don’t want to see anyone do any more g*d-dammed press conferences. Put a moratorium on press conferences. Don’t tell me forty thousand people are coming here. They’re not here!”
On Thursday, the news media reported that hundreds of people who had been sheltering at the New Orleans Convention Center without food, water, blankets, or any other help. FEMA Director Michael Brown went on four network news programs and admitted that FEMA had been unaware of the people at the convention center until the news media reported it.
That day commentators and late-night comedians began to question Mr. Brown’s fitness to serve.
On Friday President Bush visited the area, and famously praised Mr. Brown, addressing him by his nickname:
“Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”
President George W. Bush addressing FEMA Director Michael Brown: “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”
That caught people’s attention (and became a defining quote of the President Bush’s tenure as president). Media analysts wondered why the President would say that: Did he not know how incompetent Brown seemed to many people? Did he know and not care? Or did he actually want the ineffective response? It showed a president out of touch, or worse. This meme began to make its way across the television networks.
That night, Friday, on a live televised concert to raise funds for Katrina victims, entertainer Kanye West gave voice to the pent up frustrations of many:
“George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
Kanye West gave voice to pent-up frustrations when he declared on live TV: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
This changed the dynamic completely. The next morning, six days after the flood, the President spoke to the media in front of the White House. Flanked by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Meyers, and Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff, the president acknowledged shortfalls in the federal response and committed to direct a more effective response. He said,
“Many of our citizens are simply not getting the help they need, especially in New Orleans. And that is unacceptable.”
After six days of seeming out of touch, the acknowledgement of the inadequate response seemed a heartening development. That day a larger federal presence was seen in New Orleans and President Bush ordered over 7,000 troops and an additional 10,000 National Guardsmen to the disaster area.
On the weekend talk shows, the focus shifted from why the response was inadequate to who was to blame for it.
Meet The Press host Tim Russert with Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff
Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff appeared on NBC’s Meet The Press and was questioned by host Tim Russert. Russert asked whether Chertoff or anyone who reported to him would resign given the poor response. He quoted the Republican senator from Louisiana, David Vitter, who gave Secretary Chertoff a grade of F. He noted that Mitt Romney, Republican governor of Massachusetts, said that the U.S. is now an embarrassment to the world. He then challenged Secretary Chertoff:
“Your website says that your department assumes primary responsibility for a natural disaster. If you knew that a Hurricane Three storm was coming, why weren’t buses, trains, planes, cruise ships, trucks provided on Friday, Saturday, Sunday to evacuate people before the storm?”
Secretary Chertoff gave a response that was, at best, disingenuous. He said,
“Tim, the way that emergency operations act under the law is – the responsibility, the power, the authority to order an evacuation rests with state and local officials.”
Even if the statement were true, it was a sharp contrast from President Bush’s and FEMA Director Brown’s assurances that the federal government would do everything it could to help those affected by the storm. But as a PBS Frontline special pointed out, evacuation is a shared responsibility. The law establishing FEMA spells out:
“The functions of the Federal Emergency Management Agency include…conducting emergency operations to save lives and property through positioning emergency equipment and supplies, through evacuating potential victims, through providing food, water, shelter, and medical care to those in need, and through restoring critical public services.”
By the following Friday, 13 days after the flood, Secretary Chertoff announced that operational responsibility for the Katrina response was shifting from FEMA to the Coast Guard, and that Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen would take charge. FEMA Director Brown resigned the following Monday.
9 Lessons for Leaders and Communicators
The Katrina anniversary is an opportunity to reflect on foundational principles of effective crisis management. These include:
Leaders are judged based on how they deal with their most difficult challenges. Crises can literally make or break reputations.
Crisis management is the management of choices – the management of decisions that leaders make when things have the potential to go very wrong.
There is a rigor to effective crisis management that is equivalent to the rigor found in other business processes. But that rigor is often unknown, ignored, or misapplied by many leaders, to their own and their organizations’ misfortune. That rigor includes a systematic way to think in a crisis.
Every crisis is a business problem before it is a communication problem, and you cannot communicate your way out of a business problem. Crisis management is far more than skillful public relations. Effective crisis response consists of a carefully managed process that calibrates smart actions with smart communication: Crisis Response = Effective Action + Effective Communication.
The key to making smart choices is to use the right decision criteria – the proper basis for choice. And that means asking the right question: What would reasonable people appropriately expect a responsible organization to do in this situation?
Trust arises when stakeholders’ legitimate expectations are met. Trust falls when expectations are unmet.
Framing decisions in light of stakeholder expectations leads to smarter choices faster, and maintains stakeholders’ trust.
In a crisis, all stakeholders expect a responsible organization or leader to care. To care that something has happened; to care that people need help; to care that something needs to be done.
The single biggest predictor of loss of trust and confidence, of loss of reputation, and of financial and operational harm, is the perception that the organization or leader do not care. Effective crisis response, at a minimum, begins with a timely demonstration of caring. And it continues with a persistent demonstration that the organization and leader continue to care, for as long as the expectation of caring exists.
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We visited 15 prestigious universities and had many public events in four Chinese cities. Our audiences were from such disparate organizations as:
Top Chinese universities such as Tsinghua University, Peking University, Communication University of China, Nankai University, Shanghai Jiaotong University and Shanghai International Studies University;
Joint-venture universities such as New York University Shanghai, Johns Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies, and Sino-British College;
3) Large corporations like Vanke, the largest residential real estate developer in China, and
4) Renowned media organizations like Shanghai Daily.
We dealt with varied groups of people, from 20-something college students to 70-something millionaires; from public relations majors to MBAs, and EMBAs; from journalists to government officials; from crisis managers to bankers and engineers…
As a result of this exchange, Logos Institute is now in discussion with several top universities for longer-term academic collaboration, but that is not the most valuable result of the trip.
Right of Prof. Garcia, in green, Dr. Xiaojun Qian, Professor and Assistant Dean, School of Economics and Management, Tsinghua university; Left of Prof. Garcia, the publisher, Wendy Yang of Publishing House of Electronics Industry
We have built relationships with several institutions and companies for future cooperation, but again that is not the most valuable result.
As a communication practitioner, a tour observer and a translator, I discovered three lessons to be the most valuable outcome of the trip; lessons that can help us all to better understand, respect, and bridge the communication gap between different audiences.
We should understand, respect and bridge the gaps caused by:
Different learning approaches
Different cultural styles
These three lessons are universal and universally applicable.
Below I elaborate on the first lesson, different languages. In a subsequent post I will elaborate on each of the remaining two lessons.
Lesson 1: Different Languages
One obvious gap between the American author, Helio Fred Garcia, and the Chinese audience is language. We can easily overcome this obstacle by translation; translating both the slide content for visual reinforcement, and simultaneous or consecutive translation of the spoken word.
Some universities and organizations in Shanghai, and Johns Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies in Nanjing, did not require simultaneous or consecutive translation because most lecture attendants spoke fluent English.
But on most other occasions I translated the lecture, the Q&A session and even the meeting with deans, professors, or other leaders.
These two scenarios were easy to handle compared to the third scenario – The audience or the leader had the illusion that they were fluent in English, and then the misunderstanding came as expected.
This illusion of fluency has consequences, sometimes tragic, sometimes comical, but often just frustrating.
Throughout the trip, I discovered many of the challenges associated with the illusion of fluency. I offer just two representative examples:
1) “Publicity” or “Propaganda”?
Chinese is one of the three hardest-to-master languages in the world (The other two are Arabic and German).
One difficulty is its brevity. One Chinese character could easily have five or six meanings, so there could be various explanations for one Chinese word.
For instance, the Chinese word 宣传 (“Xuan Chuan”) can be accurately translated in English as both “propaganda” and “publicity.” In English the word “propaganda” is derogatory. But “publicity” is benign, if not commendatory. Because of this linguistic phenomenon, many Chinese cannot understand the subtle difference between publicity and propaganda. They interchangeably use them, just as Americans in a big city might interchangeably use “subway” and ”metro.”
To add to the confusion, there is a Chinese Central Government Department called the “Xuan Chuan Department.” Technically, it should be translated as “Department of Publicity.” However, because many Chinese conflate publicity and propaganda, they simply translate that department as “Department of Propaganda.” Many even prefer the word “propaganda” because, as one person confessed to me, it “looks premium and shows the translator’s profound English vocabulary.” This can create a deep sense of suspicion among native English speakers that “this Chinese Central Government Department does nothing else but propaganda.” Fortunately, the official name of this department is now “The Publicity Department.”
2) God uses [a] VPN (virtual private network)?
It is commonly acknowledged that many Chinese popular foods are hard to translate. CNN and HuffingtonPost featured some humorous accounts of this.
For example, “Fo Tiao Qiang” is a southern China dish or soup originating in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). It contains shark fin, quail eggs, bamboo shoots, scallops, sea cucumber, abalone, chicken, Jinhua ham, pork tendon, ginseng, mushrooms, and taro. The literal meaning of the name is “Buddha Jumps Over the Wall.” It is meant to suggest that the dish is so enticing that even Buddha would be unable to resist its lure, and would jump over the wall of his temple to be able to taste the soup.
But last month we saw the soup translated as “God uses VPN.” Some context: In China much of the internet is blocked behind a firewall. But Chinese people know how to access some of the forbidden parts — Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.– simply by using a virtual private network (VPN) to get past the firewall. The same Chinese words lead to dramatically different English translations.
So, the delicious dish traditionally translated as “Buddha Jumps Over the Wall” on at least one menu is now rendered “God uses VPN.” How can we understand it without the context?
In my next post I’ll address the two remaining questions:
How to understand, respect and bridge the gaps caused by
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Mandatory human rights reporting is coming soon to a jurisdiction near you. Is your company ready?
Large European companies need to review their human rights policies and the risks of human rights impacts linked to their operations over the next two years. The catalyst is a European Parliament Directive adopted in October that requires companies to report annually on non-financial issues, beginning in 2017. Under the Directive, large, publicly listed European companies must report annually on how they are meeting the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, as well as environmental, social and employee-related, and anti-corruption and bribery matters. The Directive mandates corporate disclosure of human rights due diligence and consideration of human rights risks, consistent with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Non-financial reports must include a “description of the policies pursued” relating to respect for human rights, including “due diligence processes implemented;” “the outcome of those policies;” principal human rights risks linked to the company’s operations, including its “business relationships, products or services” likely to cause adverse impacts; and relevant non-financial performance indicators. While the regulation is of the “comply or explain” variety – companies must disclose existing policies or explain why they have no policies on these matters – and carries no penalty for noncompliance, the twenty-eight member states of the European Union will implement the Directive through national legislation, in which each country is free to set more stringent disclosure requirements and possible penalties.
The European Non-Financial Reporting Directive is part of a broader trend of mandatory reporting that seeks to promote corporate respect for human rights through greater corporate transparency. Like financial reporting that provides material information for investors, human rights reporting informs consumers, investors and policymakers about the human rights impacts of business operations. Advocacy organizations, like those in the European Coalition of Corporate Justice, and investors, like those in the sustainable and responsible investment network Eurosif, pushed for adoption of the Directive. In the United States, mandatory corporate human rights reporting is emerging around specific issues, such as conflict minerals, forced labor and human trafficking, and specific geographies, such as Central Africa and Burma. No non-financial reporting regulation to date in the United States applies as broadly as the European Directive, however, which is estimated to cover some 6,000 European companies.
The Directive and similar regulations will force many companies to address their human rights impacts for the first time. How should executives prepare? Companies can take a number of steps to meet escalating expectations of greater transparency about corporate human rights impacts:
Conduct human rights due diligence.
Companies that understand the human rights impacts of their operations and business relationships are in a better position to prevent or mitigate those risks. Conducting a human rights impact assessment can reveal actual and potential human rights risks and allow a company to prioritize actions to address the most severe risks. Nestlé, for example, based on information from human rights impact assessments (PDF), has taken steps to reduce excessive working hours, improve road safety training for its drivers, add human rights principles to its contracts with security providers, and develop an external grievance mechanism.
Integrate human rights considerations into existing policies and procedures.
A growing number of companies have made explicit commitments to respect human rights in corporate codes of conduct, supplier standards and corporate responsibility reports. Adopting a human rights policy is an important step. Companies are also finding ways to integrate human rights considerations into existing management systems, which can be easier than creating stand-alone policies. Even without “human rights” language, corporate policies and procedures can relate to a company’s human rights impacts. Executives should review their employment, security and compliance policies, for example, to identify ways that they can address the human rights impacts of the company’s operations and business relationships.
Become familiar with human rights reportingframeworks.
Meaningful human rights reporting accounts for how a company addresses its human rights impacts, especially risks of severe human rights impacts, and serves as a basis to measure future performance. Companies are developing key performance indicators relevant for their businesses and the particular human rights risks they face. Almost all of the world’s 250 largest companies are publishing non-financial reports. More than 7,000 companies have reported non-financial issues consistent with the Global Reporting Initiative Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, which include human rights indicators. The recently launched Reporting and Assurance Frameworks Initiative (RAFI), piloted by the European multinationals Unilever, Ericsson, Nestlé and H&M, can help companies report on their human rights performance in line with the UN Guiding Principles. The European Commission is expected to issue non-binding guidelines for reporting non-financial information under the European Directive.
While European companies now have a regulatory deadline to start reporting, all companies would do well to better understand their non-financial impacts and how to manage them. Whether mandatory or not, non-financial and human rights reporting is an emerging business practice and stakeholder expectation of leading companies with the potential to influence your company’s reputation and bottom line for years to come.
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I am honored to have written the Foreword to Jock Talk by my friend Beth Noymer Levine, the head of SmartMouth Communications.
It is an inspiring book that will help any reader enhance his or her leadership communication skill. Well worth reading, digesting, and applying.
Beth Noymer Levine, Author of Jock Talk
The following is adapted from the Foreword:
Thirty years ago I made one of the best business decisions of my career. I hired Beth Noymer Levine.
I had just started work in the world’s largest PR firm, one of 25 people devoted full-time to a single Wall Street client. I was a mid-level member of the group, tasked with assembling a small team to promote our client’s nascent investment banking business. Beth became part of our five-person investment banking communication team. It was 1985, the go-go years on Wall Street — just a few years before actor Charlie Sheen captured the pace and possibilities, as well as the consequences of overdoing it, in the film Wall Street. We spent our days at our client’s Wall Street offices and trading floor, grazing for news by morning and early afternoon, and speaking with the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other media by late afternoon, all to earn our client a disproportionate share of voice in the papers.
We were young and brash and somewhat fearless. We began not knowing a thing about Wall Street — in my job interview I had to point out that I didn’t know the difference between a stock and a bond. My future boss reassured me, “you will.” And indeed we learned. And Beth was a star, earning not only our trust but also that of our (sometimes difficult) client and the news media. She was very, very good at it.
After a few years I left for another firm, and Beth also left for yet another. We reconnected at the end of the decade, when I became head of communication for a large investment bank. I retained Beth’s firm. Beth became my advisor, and I discovered that she had assembled her own team of young, brash, and talented investment banking communicators.
A couple of years later I had begun teaching investor relations and financial communication at New York University’s Marketing & Management Institute. They asked me to teach another course, so I needed to hand off Investor Relations. I could think of only one person to take over the course: Beth. She joined the NYU faculty and taught brilliantly for the next several years. Then her career led her to Atlanta, where she became head of corporate communications for a large bank – one that eventually would become part of Bank of America.
And then we went our separate ways. Beth started her own consulting practice and got involved in the world of Olympic and professional sports in addition to the corporate world. I spent the next 20 years building a crisis and leadership coaching practice, with a heavy emphasis on Wall Street, healthcare, and the military.
We reconnected over coffee in New York when she came to meet with people about her book idea – what became Jock Talk. And we discovered that we were each working on similar books – books on how to lead, build trust, and inspire loyalty through effective communication. Only I was doing it through the metaphor of military strategy, she through sports. We didn’t really compare notes. But we agreed to stay in touch.
My book, The Power of Communication: Skills to Build Trust, Inspire Loyalty, and Lead Effectively, came out in mid-2012; Beth read it only after she had finished writing hers. But – perhaps not surprisingly – the two books are completely aligned. We come at things from different directions and use different vocabulary. But we’re fellow travelers, applying and interpreting the same principles in ways we have found to work for our clients. And why not? We came of age together, discovering the hard way what works and what doesn’t. One small example: Beth’s First Principle is audience-centricity. My book’s Second Principle is that you can’t move people unless you meet them where they are. Same idea. But hers also embodies her Fourth Principle: Brevity.
I was honored and humbled when Beth asked me to write the Foreword. I devoured her book. It is brilliant. It is witty. And it works. I know that after you’ve read the book, and taken to heart Beth’s principles and techniques, you will become a more effective communicator, and therefore a more effective leader.
Beth and I agree on this: If you cannot communicate effectively you will not lead. Whether you’re an athlete, a candidate for political office, a business executive, or just someone trying to build a career, you will benefit mightily from Jock Talk’s approach.
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The concepts from the book and the best practices and principles applied by Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership have been very well received by both academic and business audiences here. I have spoken so far in three cities: Shanghai, Nanjing, and Tianjin. I’m now in Beijing, and all the remaining work will be here.
By the time we’re done, I will have spoken at fifteen universities, including most of the top-10-ranked Chinese universities. And also will have spoken at a half-dozen corporate events.
From business school deans and graduate students to newspaper editors to business executives, there has been an appetite for the best practices in crisis management and crisis communication, and also in executive leadership skills. As China goes through extraordinary change, there is also a recognition that a management approach that promotes a culture of compliance but not of innovation may not be sustainable. The tough migration to leadership that inspires, and to timely decision-making that maintains trust, has produced meaningful desire to get the principles right. It is part of a larger change taking place across all elements of Chinese society.
Announcement at Nanjing University
Three universities so far have asked to discuss formalizing long-term relationships with Logos Institute, but no commitments in either direction have yet been made.
The tour started in Shanghai, in friendly territory: NYU Shanghai, where NYU Shanghai student and Logos colleague Evan Chethik made introductions. The school, only in its second year, is housed in an ultra-modern building with smart classrooms, up-to-date labs, and even iPads in public areas for student use. Their art lab has two 3-D printers. I gave two classes, one on The Power of Communication and Leadership for the Global Liberal Studies course, and a public lecture focusing more on Power of Communication and barriers to effective audience engagement. The students were smart, engaged, and engaging. About half of my group were Americans visiting for a year; some were from NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus; the rest were Chinese, part of the first two classes of Chinese students to get an NYU Degree completely from NYU’s Shanghai college.
With my Logos colleague and NYU Shanghai student Evan Chethik
Our NYU Shanghai contact, Professor Ray Ro, is also on the faculty at Sino-British College, a consortium of University of Shanghai for Science and Technology and nine British universities. We went there the next day. Most of the students were Chinese, majoring in either engineering or business. They too were quite engaged and engaging.
Teaching MBA students at Shanghai International Studies University
The same day we visited Shanghai Jiaotong University’s School of Media and Design, teaching graduate students on effective interpersonal communication. Great students.
With Dr. Zhen Fan, Dean of the School of Business, Shanghai International Studies University
The next day we visited Shanghai International Studies University School of Business. This was the first of two visits to the university, and three classes. Here the students were getting their MBAs, some with a concentration in communication. Most were Chinese, but there were some Americans and several Europeans. The discussion was lively and vivid.
Teaching undergraduate business students at Shanghai International Studies University
We returned to Shanghai International Studies University, to teach School of English Studies and in the undergraduate business school.
NYU MS in PR/CC Student Reunion
2014 grads of the NYU MS in PR/CC. L to R, Iris Wenting Xue, Ci Song, Judy Zhu, and Ada Yang. (I was thesis advisor to Iris and Judy)
One of the highlights of the Shanghai visit was a reunion of several of my NYU MS in Public Relations and Corporate Communication students who now live and work in Shanghai. All are working in good public relations jobs. (A similar reunion is planned for Beijing.)
While in Shanghai we had the opportunity to speak at three corporate events.
Shanghai Daily, the English language newspaper of Shanghai, invited me to give a luncheon workshop on crisis management to the heads of communication of about 25 multinational corporations.
The event was also attended by a number of editors and reporters from the newspaper, and officials of the Shanghai city government.
With Joyce Wu, Editor-in-Chief of Shanghai Daily, the English language newspaper of Shanghai
That evening we went to the headquarters office of Vanke, a the largest residential real estate developer in China. Our evening was jointly sponsored by Vanke and Ivy League English, which hosted us several times. The session was on strategy, leadership, and the power of communication.
The main room at Vanke, 250 people, plus 40 offices participating remotely via video hookup
In addition to the 240 people in the headquarters office, forty of Vanke’s offices throughout China also participated via video hookup. This was the first session we held where we needed simultaneous translation into Chinese (although at all sessions, our slides were in both English and Chinese). Ivy League English will also sponsor a similar session in Beijing.
Vanke employees at one of 40 remote locations participating in the workshop
Several days later we met at Ivy League English’s Shanghai headquarters offices for a meeting of Shanghai CSR We Can, a group of 25 heads of corporate social responsibility for major Chinese companies and for the Chinese offices of multinationals. We spent the afternoon covering the overlap between corporate responsibility and crisis management; especially the need in each instance to take seriously stakeholder expectations and concerns. We had lively discussion and debate.
We then took the bullet train to Nanjing, and spent a whirlwind 36 hours there.
That night we gave a public lecture at the Johns Hopkins University Nanjing Center, a campus of the School of Advanced International Studies. The topic was the use of power in all forms, but especially communication as soft power, and therefore more sustainable than hard power. The students were getting their MAs or graduate certificates in international relations and foreign policy.
The announcement at the Johns Hopkins University Nanjing Center
These students, generally older and more experienced internationally than the business students I had met at other universities, had a sophisticated understanding of foreign policy, economics, and military force. We had lively discussions of American foreign policy, framing (ISIS or ISIL?), and the limits of soft power.
Student interaction at Johns Hopkins University Nanjing Center
Another unexpected delight on the trip was a surprise visit to the Johns Hopkins lecture by my former NYU PR/CC student Tao Feng. He graduated in 2014, and now works for Burson-Marsteller in Guangzhou, China. He happened to be in Nanjing for a client meeting, and saw the notice of the lecture on Weibo (Chinese equivalent of Twitter) and was able to get to the lecture, his boss in tow. We shared a taxi afterward.
With Tao Feng, 2014 graduate of the NYU MS in PR/CC
The next day we returned to downtown Nanjing to speak at a public workshop at Nanjing University on maintaining trust in a crisis. It was a small but focused group of undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctorate students.
We spent the afternoon at a distant campus of Communication University of China, Nanjing. The public lecture on effective leadership communication was held in the library auditorium to a standing-room only crowd. The discussion was lively and toward the end got a bit raucous. Or, as Dr. Shirley Tse, our host, said, the students were vivid.
Teaching at Communication University of China Nanjing
After class we took the bullet train from Nanjing to Beijing, and seven hours later took the bullet commuter train the half hour (90 miles) to Tianjin, a city of 13 million known for its technology and manufacturing base. (Logos has several large industrial clients with facilities here.)
The announcement at Tianjin University College of Management and Economics
That day we spoke at Tianjin University’s College of Management and Economics. Tianjin University, founded in 1895, is the oldest university in China.
With Dr. Zhang Wei, Dean, College of Management and Economics, Tianjin University
We spoke to the MBAs, Executive MBAs, and other business students on leadership and the power of communication. The next day we were back in Tianjin to speak at Nankai University’s business school.
Teaching business students at Nankai University Business School
And then we rested.
My wife, Laurel Garcia Colvin, returned to New York Saturday, after four and a half weeks in China. I got a three-day weekend, just ending now.
The trip has been ably assembled and managed by Logos Institute Research and China Business Development Associate Iris Wenting Xue (who also did most of the simultaneous translation, when needed). She has worked closely Beryl Young, a manager with the book’s publisher, Publishing House of Electronics Industry.
Tomorrow the Beijing portion of the trip begins, and will last nine days. Stay tuned…
Watchtower on the Northwest Corner of the Forbidden City, Beijing, from across the moat
https://i0.wp.com/www.logosconsulting.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Nanjing-Sign-clip-1.jpg?fit=307%2C319&ssl=1319307Helio Fred Garciahttps://www.logosconsulting.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/HQ-Lambda-Consulting-Lockup-1030x562.pngHelio Fred Garcia2015-03-16 08:01:192021-09-07 22:18:48Power of Communication and Logos Institute Well Received in China
If I told you that a small man killed a large man with a slingshot, you might remember it for a few weeks. But if I told you a story about a small man killing a large man with a slingshot, you might remember it for a lifetime. In fact, we humans have collectively remembered the story of David and Goliath for thousands of years.
From the Bible to Hollywood, humans have shown a special affinity for storytelling.
Even the earliest hunter-gatherers told stories. But it took millennia until thinkers, starting with Aristotle, questioned just how stories captivate their audiences. More recently, theorists have shifted their inquiry to how narratives can inspire not just wonder and whimsy, but action and change.
And most of them, from Aristotle on, have found the answers not in words, but in shapes: The lines and contours, circles and arcs of good stories. Drawing on their work, we can uncover this shape of successful storytelling:
Before charting this shape’s every peak and valley, let me take my own advice and tell you its story.
First, there was Aristotle. His work undergirds almost every discipline of modern academia: Science, history, literature, philosophy. It’s even the source for the name of our firm. And of course, Plato’s pupil had something to say about storytelling.
Every story, Aristotle wrote, needs a beginning, a middle, and end. He called these three sections prologue (when the stage is set), episode (when the action happens), and exodos (when the conflict is resolved). It was the earliest realization of the power of structure to keep audiences’ attention.
Today, we learn about beginnings, middles, and ends in elementary school, but this lesson seems seldom remembered by grown-up presenters. Clear structure, building three parts in particular, is the first element of successful storytelling.
Second, fast-forward more than 2,000 years. Simon Sinek is determined to turn leaders’ thinking, action, and communication inside out.
Rather than, for example, announcing what a product is, then explaining how it works, and then positing why it matters, Sinek argues that audiences are only moved to action when speakers reverse that order:
“Every single person, every single organization on the planet knows What they do, 100 percent. Some know How they do it, whether you call it your differentiated value proposition or your proprietary process or your USP. But very, very few people or organizations know Why they do what they do. And by Why I don’t mean to make a profit. … By Why, I mean: What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care? Well, as a result, the way we think, the way we act, the way we communicate is from the outside in. It’s obvious. We go from the clearest thing to the fuzziest thing. But the inspired leaders and the inspired organizations — regardless of their size, regardless of their industry — all think, act and communicate from the inside out.”
Starting with Why isn’t easy, but it pays off by tapping into the dominance of emotion in human decision-making. Disciplined order, moving from broad, emotional themes to specific, logical actions, is the second element of successful storytelling.
Third, there is another thinker who has searched for the shape of storytelling. “I even cried a little,” says Nancy Duarte, “when I figured out that it worked.”
What Duarte found is the Sparkline, a rhythmic flow that alternates between What Is and What Could Be. It starts with a gap between the current state and the ideal state that is “significant and meaningful and powerful” enough for the audience to be “stunned a bit” and “for the rest of your presentation, they’re leaning forward.” Then, in the middle of the story, Duarte advises to “move back and forth between those two perspectives and create interest.” And finally, she says, speakers should make a call to action, but not without ending on an even higher note: “You should always end your presentation with a ‘new bliss’ … explaining the way the world is going to be with your idea adopted.”
The contrast between the current state and the ideal state creates interest that keeps the audience engaged, and creates urgency for them to close the gap. Compelling rhythm, alternating between the current state and the ideal state, is the third element of successful storytelling.
Through the work of these and other experts, and our own experience, we can uncover the clearest picture yet of successful storytellling.
The Storywave combines the clear structure of Aristotle, with the disciplined order of Sinek, with the compelling rhythm of Duarte. It makes the convergence of the current state and the ideal state an inevitable imperative, and it makes your product, process, or new idea the seemingly obvious solution.
This is the shape of successful storytelling. For an example, here are key points in Barack Obama’s historic keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, mapped to the Storywave:
Obama’s speech didn’t quite make John Kerry president, but it did, in many ways, make Obama president. Immediately after the speech, analysts cooed that America may have just seen “the first black president of the United States.” Four years later, Obama fulfilled that prophecy, besting Hillary Clinton and John McCain in his own David and Goliath story.
And any office, not just the Oval Office, can benefit from the power of storytelling. It’s a way to give your ideas clarity, urgency, and — yes — shape.
Every year I look for great moments in leadership and leadership communication. This year offered many candidates for the greatest leadership moment. The usual suspects come from the world of politics, sports, or business. But there was one unlikely moment in 2014 that in my view shows leadership in an unexpected light, one that offers both teachable moments and hope for leaders in any field.
Great Leaders Transcend the Either/Or
Ever since the murder of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri in August, there has been a growing movement calling attention to the disproportionate number of black youths who are killed by police officers. In the months following the Ferguson shooting, other police-involved shootings led to national protests, including the “Hands Up/Don’t Shoot” rallies and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The media has framed the conflict as police v. black communities, and New York City police have played into that dynamic by showing disrespect to New York Mayor Bill De Blasio after he noted that he has spoken with his own son, who is black, about his personal risk when interacting with police.
But however convenient for the media to paint the conflict as either/or; as pro-police or pro-community, it doesn’t have to be this way. And great leaders can transcend the bifurcation and find ways to unite and move forward.
My pick for the best leadership and leadership communication moment in 2014 is Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson. I’ve taught his case in several graduate business and communication courses in the five months since, and each time it brings tears to the students’ eyes. I share it here.
Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri on Saturday, August 9. The police mishandled the investigation and aftermath, and by midweek the St. Louis county and other local police forces mishandled the protests that erupted. The US and national media descended on the scene, broadcasting live from the streets.
The police over-reaction included paramilitary police in military gear riding on an armored vehicle, with a sniper aiming his rifle at protesters. It included tear-gassing of the crowds and of journalists, and intimidating journalists and other observers. The scene was reminiscent of a war zone, and covered that way in the national and international press.
By late week, Missouri governor Jay Nixon took control of the situation, and named the Missouri Highway Patrol as the agency responsible for crowd control. He appointed State Patrol Captain Ron Johnson the commander on the scene.
Johnson, who is black and who grew up and still lives in the Ferguson area, immediately reframed his role: it was not to protect Ferguson from the protestors, but to protect the protestors’ right to peaceably assemble.
The Transforming Moment
But the great moment in leadership came the Sunday eight days after Michael Brown’s shooting, and four days after the tear-gassing in the streets. It was at a church, at a rally in support of the Brown family. Capt. Johnson arrived wearing his state trooper uniform. There was palpable tension in the large crowd as he took the pulpit. But he began in an unexpected way:
“I want to start off by talking to Mike Brown’s family. And I want you to know my heart goes out to you. And I say that I’m sorry. I wear this uniform. And I should stand up here and say that I’m sorry.”
It was a remarkable moment. And the crowd was not expecting it. There was initial silence, then applause, which lasted for more than thirty seconds; the final fifteen of which included cheers.
In that moment Johnson transformed the situation. He connected with the community; he opened a valve that allowed pent-up emotions to be released, in a positive and constructive way. He spoke first to the people most directly affected, the Brown family. He expressed sympathy for their loss, and then said he’s sorry. He repeated it in the frame of his uniform. Their experience of the police, from the shooting of their son to the mishandling of the crime scene to the bungling of the protests, was one of indifference and of confrontation. Here was a police leader moving past those experiences and connecting at a human level.
And there was significance in his phrase: “I wear this uniform. And I should stand up here and say that I’m sorry.” He was the first law enforcement officer to say so.
Having established an institutional leadership role, he then connected more personally, and made a personal commitment.
“This is my neighborhood. You are my family. You are my friends. And I am you. And I will stand and protect you. I will protect your right to protest.” (More cheers.) I’m telling you right now I’m full right now. I came in here today and I saw people cheering and people clapping, and this is what people need to put on TV.” (More cheers and applause.)
He then told his own story.
“When this is over, I’m going to in my son’s room. My black son. Who wears his pants sagging; wears his hat cocked to his side; has tattoos on his arms. But that’s my baby.”
Then he moved from the personal to the public:
“Let’s continue to show this nation who we are; continue to show this country who we are; for when these days are over Mike Brown’s family is still weeping, and they’re still praying…
He closed by connecting, promising, and rallying:
“I love you. I stand tall with you. And I’ll see you out there.”
A police officer told the community that he loves them. Remarkable.
Watch the six minute talk here:
Leadership Best Practices
Capt. Johnson’s six minute talk met many of Logos Institute’s best practices. One is that you can’t move people unless you meet them where they are. Capt. Johnson did that, connecting in his first sentence with the Brown family and throughout with the community, both black and white. He understood the power of framing: “I wear this uniform. And I should stand up here and tell you I’m sorry.”
Our friend and fellow crisis counselor James E. Lukaszewski describes a pattern in crises he calls the Victim Cycle. Early intervention can pre-empt or shorten the victim cycle. In the early phases the victims (both those directly affected and those who empathize) need assistance with their own grief; to hear an expression of regret; to see involvement from the institution in queston; to receive information; and to have their plight recognized. In later phases they also need to receive validation of their suffering; get honest communication from the organization; to hear an apology from the top of the organization; to experience direct communication; and receive compassion. Capt. Johnson delivered all of those in his remarks.
And the Logos Institute best practices decision criteria were also met. The defining question in determining what to do or say is:
What would reasonable members of the stakeholder group appropriately expect
a responsible organization or leader to do when facing a situation like this?
And in the case of the Ferguson community, when Capt. Johnson addressed them, the reasonable expectations of a responsible leader would be to connect, express sympathy and regret, and to honestly declare his values, commitments, and next steps. Capt. Johnson did.
In many ways he was the leader best suited to do so.
Time magazine quotes St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson, who knows Captain Johnson from working on large events such as a presidential motorcade:
“He’s a quiet guy, but he is professional. When he speaks, people listen. When he acts, people respond to it. He’s familiar with the area, he comes from the area, and he connects with the community.”
Time quotes his former boss, Patrol Superintendent Colonel Roger Stottlemyer, who promoted Johnson to captain in 2012:
“I think he’s a calming influence on people. I think he knows the people there, he knows what their concerns are, he can relate to them having come from that community.” …Stottlemyer said that at the time Johnson was rising in the ranks, there were fewer than 100 officers of color in a force of 1,200 officers. “He was a star, and it was obvious from the beginning.” Stottlemyer said he promoted Johnson to Captain partly because he was impressed with his leadership style. “I observed when he was a corporal and a sergeant, the way he handled his men and the way he handled issues that comes up,” he said. “He communicates well with his people. He was an officer that you didn’t have complaints about.”
The national debate set off by the Ferguson killing and aftermath is bigger than any one local community and any one law enforcement officer. And however effective a leader Captain Johnson may be, the national controversy is large and getting larger, and many other players are now involved. The media continues to portray the issue as either/or; as police v. community/community v. police.
But in all the controversy, it is reassuring to see real leadership in action, even in a small community, that transforms a situation and brings people together. For his courage, his compassion, his authenticity, and his effective leadership, I am pleased to pick Capt. Johnson’s remarks on August 17 as the leadership and leadership communication moment of the year.
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