A local scandal involving the wife of an elected official brings to mind a lesson we can all take to heart when things go wrong. First, here is what we know about the unfortunate sequence of events:
The wife of a Phoenix-area County Board member was arrested this week on charges she was involved in a sexual relationship with a teenage boy. Obviously in most any setting these charges are going to be disturbing and a subject of local news coverage. Besides the tragedy it represents for all involved, it was instructive to note how the County Supervisor chose to respond.
In a statement released by his office he said he learned of the charges and was “stunned” and that his children were “flabbergasted.”
He also said, “I want so much to believe these allegations are not true, but if they are, I am appalled and crushed. I am a religious man. I ask all to pray for our family and those involved so that justice may best be served.” He also said, “You think you know someone after 28 years (of marriage) and I need answers as much as the police officers do.”
What struck me most dramatically was the use of the word “I.” When a crisis occurs, no matter how personally troubling, as a public official it is best to think beyond oneself. (We all remember the BP CEO saying he ‘wanted his life back.’) Also, does anyone see what seems to be missing from the statement? How about any recognition of the humanity of his wife? She made a terrible mistake, but the Supervisor only seemed concerned with how it looked for him.
How about saying something which expresses concern and caring for the person who is the mother of his three daughters? Someone who has been in his life for decades? My point is not to judge this man but to make sure we all can look past our personal disappointment or anger or emotion when a crisis occurs. How is that possible? Here are three quick suggestions:
Have a plan — If you have a public profile, know who can take the lead and what steps can be taken during anything from a traffic accident to a high profile scandal. Have some templates and a guide book in place so statements or interviews can include a heartfelt message as well as a response to the facts.
Get help — Any crisis will tax your capabilities — emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. Get others to help with the process, especially when your reputation or the reputation of your company or agency is impacted.
Rising above — No one signs up for bad news, but well-run organizations and thoughtful public people can actually show their strengths in difficult times. I often refer to this Robert Freeman quote: “Character is not made in a crisis, it is only exhibited.”