Two stories in today’s (Feb. 6) New York Times compel me to blog.

Each reinforces our recent posts about self-inflicted harm, but each also provides its own teachable moment.

1. Wachovia Bank
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Yesterday we blogged about the tendency of companies and their leaders to ignore a problem that is otherwise evident.

Another principle of crisis management is that companies can be forgiven if people have been hurt: killed, injured, insulted cheated, etc. But companies can’t be forgiven, and won’t be forgiven, if they’re seen not to care that people have been hurt.

Today’s Times, in a front business page story, reports that Wachovia Bank, which last year said it was unaware that fraudulent telemarketers were using the bank’s accounts to steal millions from unsuspecting victims, not only knew but had been put on notice about the fraud. Wachovia is the fourth-largest bank in the US.

The Times notes that newly-released documents in a lawsuit show that high-ranking employees at the bank frequently warned colleagues about telemarketing frauds routed through the accounts. Other banks and federal agencies also notified the bank, but it continued to provide banking services to the companies that helped to steal $400 million, the Times reports.

YIKES!!!! and DOUBLE YIKES!!!

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socgen.gifOne of the recurring themes of crisis management is that most harm in a crisis is self-inflicted, either in the first instance or because of a late or weak response, or both.

A second theme is that an effective response is often delayed by predictable mis-steps. Logos Institute has catalogued ten missteps that seem to be the common denominators of mis-handled crises. These ten missteps constitute predictable patterns that can be identified early and overcome, if only you know what to look for. One of these missteps is to ignore a problem that is otherwise evident.

A third theme is that these missteps are often caused or intensified by lack of humility among decision-makers.

These three themes were brought into sharp focus in today’s (Feb. 5, 2008) New York Times, whose business section has a detailed account of the missed warning signs at Société Générale, the French bank where a rogue trader cost the bank more than $7 billion.

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Why Should the Boss Listen to You?: The Seven Disciplines of the Trusted Strategic Advisor, by James E. Lukaszewski, Jossey-Bass.

why_should_the_boss_listen_to_you_cover_art.JPGHow do you make a difference? How do you obtain and exercise influence inside your own organization? How can you become a trusted advisor, either in your own shop or to your clients?

Master counselor James E. Lukaszewski has written a remarkable guide to gaining the proverbial seat at the table, and then making good use of that seat. Why Should the Boss Listen to You is a thorough, candid, and highly usable guide to the personal attributes that are necessary to influence leaders and organizations. There is no silver bullet. Rather, having influence requires intentional investment of time and energy, and the ability to appreciate the perspectives of those you advise. Says Lukaszewski, “To begin having influence requires a personal strategy of accomplishment, commitment, and personal incremental progress that helps set you apart from the wannabes, the dreamers, and the self-servers.”

Full-disclosure: Jim Lukaszewski is a good friend. We’ve taught together, done professional workshops together, and contributed writing to each other’s projects. We share clients, and often refer business to each other. I blurbed this book. But not just because we’re friends. Rather, because this is an important book, and it can help internal and external advisors become even more effective.

The book is in two parts. The first covers the realities of advising top executives, and includes chapters on how leaders think and operate, what leaders expect, and how to achieve real impact within an organization. The second covers Lukaszewski’s seven disciplines that collectively allow one to become a trusted advisor.

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Howard Schultz, Source: AP

“Crisis management is the new black!” A good friend recently shared that revelation with me via email. I had to laugh, not only because I enjoy a witty fashion metaphor, but because I’ve also enjoyed watching crisis management come of age in the public consciousness. Even in this era of distrust and information saturation, people are warming up to the power of the sincere apology – a step toward redemption requiring that dollop of humility my partner Fred Garcia writes about. More and more, people are welcoming the forward arc of emotionally-intelligent, collaborative leadership on a global scale. Absolutely fabulous, I say!

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rt_clinton_emotional3_080109_ms.jpgThank you all for your very thoughtful comments on my post on humility as a leadership attribute.

Today (the day after the New Hampshire primary) I’ve gotten lots of calls and e-mails from people who read my original post, all commenting on Senator Hillary Clinton’s surprise victory in New Hampshire.

As you know, after the Iowa caucuses the conventional wisdom was that Senator Barack Obama, who had captured the women’s vote on his way to overwhelming victory in Iowa, would replicate his triumph in the New Hampshire primary.

Then Senator Clinton had a moment that changed the story. (See the YouTube video of her emotional moment.) Depending on which pundits you listen to, she either had an uncharacteristic moment of authentic vulnerability or a highly-contrived moment of inauthentic vulnerability. But the vulnerability — roundly interpreted as weakness — was seen to have changed the outcome.

It’s probably too soon to know for sure whether the expression of emotion really made such a difference. But it’s very interesting that vulnerability – however authentic it may be – is now seen to have propelled her to the front of the pack.

We’ll keep watching; your comments and reactions are welcomed…

Fred

What are the leadership attributes that contribute to long-term success? That help get through adversity?

I was reflecting on these questions as I put together our year-end review of crises, The Year of Living Self-Destructively. The defining crises of 2007 were all self-inflicted; even where the triggering event was external, the leader’s handling of the crisis only made things worse.

What these crises had in common was this: the leaders who caused the self-inflicted harm exhibited little, if any, humility. Read more