If you can keep your head while all around you are losing theirs

STORMY WATERS. Protecting reputation in difficult times takes care and skill.

STORMY WATERS. Protecting reputation in difficult times takes care and skill.

By Ron Wain, Joint Managing Director, Deep South Media

A true test of leadership is in a crisis.

A crisis where humanity, humility, courage, and other hitherto unknown personal attributes, coalesce to create a reassuring presence that everyone else will rally around, however desperate the situation, whatever the odds.

Some of these crises are reputational and it is beholden on any well-run company to ensure their own leader is up to the task of facing the eye-bleaching glare of the media.

Don’t be fooled by appearances, though.

Your boss may appear confident, intelligent, capable, driven.

But a barrage of aggressive questioning from reporters on matters of public interest, where your company has blundered, perhaps with the loss of life, may end in humiliation, petrifaction and an ignominious exit from an appalled boardroom.

Malaysia, as a country, faced similar reputational damage after MH370, the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER aircraft carrying 239 people, vanished from the face of the earth on March 8.

Communicating in these challenging circumstances, with relatives’ emotions running high and an information black hole due to an unprecedented event, would place any organisation under stress.

The initial news conferences were shambolic, disordered, amateurish, feverish.

Step forward Hishammuddin Hussein, the country’s defence minister.

He has brought statesman-like gravitas to proceedings, ensuring the briefings have been more controlled, professional, thoughtful.

Mr Hussein has brought another thing in this distressing episode: leadership.

As former reporters ourselves, we regularly put leaders to the test in front of the cameras.

Some stumble, sweat, curse, lose their heads.

Others keep theirs on.

These white-heat media interview training sessions, which are always based on realistic scenarios, prove useful pointers for senior management teams.

They are now informed, with a better degree of certainty, about who would be frontman or frontwoman, should the worse happen and a news conference has to be called in the interests of transparency, the media clamouring for answers.

In fairness, few of us could perform in such a pressure-cooker environment.

But the key question is, who, in your organisation, can show Hishammuddin-like leadership in a reputational firestorm?

If you can’t name the right person immediately, you’ve got a problem.