Like many American’s I am pretty much obsessed with the confident television phenomenon that is Scandal’s Olivia Pope. As a communication’s professional, it’s hard for me to not want to be her. She’s confident, she’s smart, and she’s basically everything that you would want in a crisis management professional. So instead of ranting about how great the show is, I’ve opted for informing you on some of the things that I’ve learned from Scandal that directly translate to real-life communications situations.
- Never Tell a Lie
This is probably the most important one, especially for government employees. In government as well as the business world, it is vital that you maintain transparency with your public. The days where “no comment” would suffice are no longer here. “No comment” has warped from a way to avoid responding to a topic to a term that evokes wrongdoing and gives your public the impression that you are hiding something. So, don’t ever use that. Instead, stick with the truth. Don’t make anything up, don’t stretch the truth, simply state the facts that you do know. And if you don’t know how to answer a question, it’s perfectly OK to respond to someone by telling them that you will get back to them. But, let me emphasize that you MUST get back to them. You can’t leave them hanging.
- Always Have A Backup Plan
Another important thing that Olivia Pope does is that she develops multiple plans. It is vital for organizations to formulate crisis plans so that they are prepared to respond to just about any scenario that they may come across. If your organization does not already have a crisis plan in place, say something. Lead your organization in the development of a plan, the creation of a crisis team, and acquire or reach out to obtain the necessary resources that are necessary in implementing something of this magnitude. It is far easier to respond to a crisis when there are already steps outlined on how to respond. If you have no plan in place, you are relying on your reactions and emotions to formulate a plan at the last-minute, and this has the potential to add to the crisis rather than help to solve it.
- Confidence is Key
I feel like that phrase is strong enough to use on its own, however I will elaborate a bit so you see where I’m coming from. In a crisis scenario it is vital that you choose a confident spokesperson to respond to the community about what is not only happening, but also what is being done to solve the problem at hand. The spokesperson needs to not only believe what they are saying, but they need to be empathetic with their audience, letting them know that the situation is being handled and that there is nothing to worry about. Sometimes all it takes is a little confidence to reassure the public that they are in good hands. There’s nothing worse than having an unconfident spokesperson, as their lack in confidence in themselves translates to the community as untrustworthy and creates panic and worry in a crisis scenario. Both things that you do not want proliferate.
- No One Is Perfect
Always remember, no one is perfect. Not even Olivia Pope or Mary Poppins (who was only practically perfect). We all have our faults and we all make bad decisions every once in a while. It’s how you respond to these bad choices that makes you a good leader.
- Be a Gladiator
Finally, this is my favorite take-away from Scandal, “be a gladiator.” Get out there and be a leader. If you see something wrong within your organization or if you have an idea on how to improve something, be a gladiator and take the necessary steps to lead your organization down the right path.
The wind that famously sweeps down the plain can quickly become a violent vortex leveling everything in its path … homes, schools, entire communities. Oklahoma local government leaders are experts on storm recovery.
A couple of years ago when I was the Executive Director for the City Management Association of Oklahoma, I wanted to host an informational panel discussion at one of our quarterly meetings and invite managers who had been through the worst of the storms to participate. Other conferences focused on the administrative or technical aspects of storm recovery. I wanted to hear about the leadership skills that these managers drew on to restore the confidence of their community and heal its spirit after such devastation.
Our panel included managers who had been through severe weather events that left death and extreme destruction in their wake. This experienced panel had walked through the fire and some of their shoes were still charred when we met.
First we asked how they dealt with their own stress. One manager shared that he couldn’t always turn to his normal support system because his spouse and family were also experiencing the shock of what happened to the community. He received encouragement and support from the members of his Sunday school class. A young manager admitted that he would do some things differently – he worked too many hours, forgot to eat at times, and used alcohol for stress relief. He was honest in sharing that the ways he dealt with the tremendous pressures were not always healthy for him or his family.
We asked which leadership skill was most critical to them in the hours and days after the devastating destruction. Every manager on the panel agreed on the one leadership skill that helped him best serve his suffering city.
When I was attending college, one of my part-time jobs was working at a day care. (Stay with me, I promise this is relevant.) One afternoon while I was working, a little boy fell and hit his face. When I lifted him up, his lip was bleeding and I panicked. I grabbed him and ran through the day care calling for the manager. She calmly set him on a counter and asked to see his lip. Then she told him that it looked like the kind of injury that could be helped by a Popsicle. He stopped crying, took the cold treat, and went back to play. Then the day care manager said something I have never forgotten, “Claudia, they are looking to us to see how serious the situation is. When we stay calm, it helps them be confident that things are under control.”
Even in such critical circumstances, the same leadership skill helped these local government leaders reassure their battered communities. They shared that they always spoke calmly, and with confidence in their staff and their community. Every time they were asked to speak at a press conference, in an interview, in an internal or external meeting, they assured their hurting communities that they would recover.
Did they always “feel” calm? Were they always confident of the future? They admitted there were times they were frustrated, weary and overwhelmed. But they also instinctively knew one key leadership principle would have a positive and healing impact at the point of their city’s greatest need – when leaders express confidence, they instill it in others.
In every instance, the communities represented by these managers pulled together, rebuilt and recovered. Their cities are proof of the principle.
Executive Search Manager
Photo by Mike Mezeul II Photography
My five-year-olds can dress themselves. It seems like a simple statement, but this act can save our family at least ten precious minutes every morning and they are very proud of their accomplishment.
Unless it is unsafe attire (such as wearing cowboy boots to gym class), they choose their outfits each day. I prefer to think that I am supporting their expression of fashion, but they are often wearing sweatpants with a polo shirt or a gingham tunic with paisley leggings.
This morning was different. It was picture day at school. The outfit this morning would be captured for eternity. I knew all “good” mothers would have a bow-to-toe matching outfit, color-coordinated sibling outfits – all of which did not resemble last year’s picture day.
Striving for perfection, my daughter and I had an epic clash of stubbornness over her outfit. She wanted to wear a brown tunic with striped leggings (complete with a hole in the knee) and tennis shoes with tube socks. I preferred a blue sweater dress that matched her eyes (and just happened to match her brothers’ polo shirts) with dress socks.
Her argument: Why did I get to choose her outfit on picture day?
She was right. If I trusted her to choose her outfit every other day, why did I get to choose it today?
If you trust your police chief to apprehend suspects daily, do you get to decide to handle a case that will likely appear in the news media? If you trust your public works department to construct roads daily, do you get to design a roadway that is stirring up customer complaints?
OR, do good leaders ask questions or set parameters instead?
I could have asked my daughter if her shoes and socks coordinated with the outfit she chose. Or, for picture day, I could have set parameters of wearing a red, blue, or yellow dress with no holes and dress shoes, but let her pick the outfit pieces.
In your organization, set the parameters for decisions and the expectation of the end goal and let your employees do the job you hired them to do. For employee teams, draw the box for their decision and let the team make the decision – let them be the high-performing team that you desire.
Our struggle this morning ended in compromise. Once dressed, she asked me if she looked pretty. Crushed and realizing that I sacrificed her confidence for a glimpse of perfection, I replied that she is always the prettiest girl I know.
Striving for perfection, at home or at work, is not only unrealistic, but it can divert you away from your goal (Tweet This). At home, my goal for each and every day is for her to leave our house with confidence to take on the world.
Build the confidence of your employees by giving and allowing them to keep their decision-making abilities (Tweet This). As a leader, your job is to set the direction, parameters, and end goal. Give your employees the confidence to do their job and get to the end goal, no matter what their style may be.
Executive Search Manager
a feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgment.
I have confidence in sunshine
I have confidence in rain
I have confidence that spring will come again
Besides which you see I have confidence in me
I have confidence in confidence alone
Besides which you see I have confidence in me!
-Maria, I Have Confidence, The Sound of Music
There is a lot of discussion about “self-confidence” going on — kind of continually. (Here’s a recent Fast Company article about women and self-confidence).
But, when it comes to speaking, this can be a real killer problem. A speaker has to come across with brimming self-confidence; a speaker has to look and sound like he/she is full of confidence.In other words, yes, it is quite a challenge to actually become more self-confident. But, when you are speaking, you need to sound confident, whether you are self-confident or not.
But many speakers come across as tentative, unsure, not quite sounding certain of what they say.
Now, if they haven’t done their homework, and aren’t prepared, then it is kind of hopeless to begin with.
But if a speaker has done his/her homework, and is prepared, then add the step of sounding more confident to your rehearsal time.
Here are some tips:
- When you speak, stand up straight! Poor posture comes across as lacking in confidence. Literally, work on your posture — practice good posture.
- Speak making assertions, rather than sounding like you are questioning your own thoughts.
Speak more “forcefully” – don’t sound tentative.
- And one secret is to avoid rising intonation – making a statement in a way that sounds like you are asking a question.
When you rehearse, record your rehearsal. (Just set up your SmartPhone, and record yourself).
First, watch yourself carefully – without the sound on at all. How’s your posture? Do your facial expressions make it look like you know what you are talking about – that you are not questioning yourself?
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
“Leadership”. Few topics have so many experts offering so much advice with so little actual impact!
It would take years to read all of the books on leadership currently on the shelves of your local Barnes and Noble. And yet, the lack of effective leadership continues to mire far too many organizations in the tar pit of mediocrity.
Yesterday, I engaged in a thought-provoking conversation with one of my authentic role models on the type of leadership required to create a dynamic and satisfying environment in which team members find a high-degree of job satisfaction and, as a result, perform at their highest levels. The insights I gained from this thought-provoking conversation are worth sharing.
- Great leaders are not afraid to make themselves vulnerable.
This is so counter-intuitive to our normal human inclinations. We tend to protect, conceal, and hide our shortcomings and limitations. We are afraid that if anyone knows we have a weakness, they will not respect us, they will not trust us, they will not like us, and they will not follow us. In reality, just the opposite is true. When a leader finally develops the courage to acknowledge their shortcomings, no one who works with them is surprised — they already could see the shortcomings and knew that the leader was hiding from those shortcomings! Vulnerability demonstrates strength (not weakness) and builds trust (not doubt). Leadership built on a foundation of anything other than trust is doomed to fail.
- Great leaders are confidence builders.
After a leader has earned the trust of their team, the leader must make the team trust and believe in itself (both individually and collectively). Achieving great things can only be achieved once your team truly believes they are capable of achieving great things. The greatest obstacle is not a lack of training, know-how, education, money, staffing, or political support — it is a lack of confidence that the vision is achievable. Great leaders know how to build the confidence of their team that they can accomplish amazing things.
- Great leaders are dream enablers.
The vast majority of your team members are motivated first and foremost by the desire to know they are making a difference in what they do. I absolutely love the description of the leader as a dream enabler. Few things are as exciting and satisfying as leading a team as they translate their individual and collective dreams and visions into a reality that makes a huge difference in the world. A leader who can align organizational goals that make a difference with the dreams of their team members will have captured lightening in a bottle… and amazing things will happen.
Build trust with your team by being strong enough to make yourself vulnerable; build confidence in your team that they are capable of achieving great things; and enable your team to make their dreams and visions a reality, and you will leave a lasting legacy as a great leader!