Editor’s Note: This post was written before the events occurred in Charlottesville. This blog was written exclusively for the IPR Digital Media Research Center.
While “The Art of the Deal” may be the second best-read book in the history of the world after the bible, President Trump may have another best-seller in the making if he hires a ghostwriter to compile his various Tweets, phone calls, speechifying and otherwise indiscreet comments since assuming office on January 21.
Let me begin by emphasizing my observations and tips are intended to be strictly apolitical in nature. While they concern our 45th president, my goal is, rather, to examine the implications if a Fortune 500 CEO had written, or said, more or less the same things as our outspoken chief executive.
So, without further ado, let’s examine some recent Tweets or comments he has made and what you might have done to mitigate the fallout caused if your CEO had uttered these words:
1. CEOs shouldn’t contradict themselves: When a CEO says they are going to do one thing and then, bam, turns around and says the exact opposite, it doesn’t do much to build individual or institutional trust.
Here are two contradictory President Trump statements:
- Jul 17, 2017 09:17:50 PM “Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!”
- Jul 18, 2017 06:58:22 AM “As I have always said, let ObamaCare fail and then come together and do a great healthcare plan. Stay tuned!”
A CEO’s board, investors, and remaining constituents would absolutely excoriate the poor fellow if he tried pulling this sort of flip-flop unless seismic market conditions forced such a 180 (and, if that’s the case, it can easily be explained away). Failing that, look for one or more Warren Buffets to rise up and call for your CEO’s head for misleading The Street.
2. CEOs should NOT be the source of Fake News. This may seem obvious, but one does not want to be caught passing along hearsay, gossip, unsubstantiated claims or pretty much anything that can’t be second-sourced (as we ex-journalists are wont to say).
Here are two examples from President Trump:
- Feb 18 2017, Donald Trump states in a speech to a rally in Florida, “We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this?”
- Feb 19, 2017 04:57:01 PM “My statement as to what’s happening in Sweden was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden.”
A responsible CEO simply wouldn’t share a story he’d happened to have just overheard on a cable news network. And, any CCO worth her salt would stop a reckless CEO dead in his tracks before he attempted to do so. If, however, the CCO is late in muffling her runaway train of a chief executive from disseminating fake news, she, and her team, should go directly to Defcon 5, and issue an immediate clarification, a sincere apology and the actual, real news.
3. Never pick a fight you can’t win. The CEO of a publicly-traded corporation should never deliberately pick a fight with a direct competitor if the actual facts show that she’s not only wrong, but is actually committing more egregious acts than those her rival ever contemplated.
Again, we turn to President Trump for two classic examples of picking the wrong fight (vacationing) on the wrong subject (golfing) with the wrong competitor (Obama):http://people.com/politics/trump-vacation-golf-obama/
4. Don’t throw your direct reports under the bus:
One of the single best ways to destroy morale among your direct reports is to blame them for one of your mistakes. The former Wells Fargo CEO, John Stumpf repeatedly told Congressional investigators he had no knowledge whatsoever of the billions of dollars his underlings were stealing from retail investors. Not true. He knew. And, he paid the ultimate price (See: Volkswagen senior management for similar finger pointing at subordinates when the USDOT caught them deliberately violating safety requirements).
Now, let’s see how POTUS handled a similar situation:
In an interview with reporters and editors of The New York Times, President Trump said, “Sessions gets the job, right after he gets the job he recused himself… Well Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else.” http://nyti.ms/2uKHfbG
Aug 5 2017, 3:58:00 PM “After many years of LEAKS going on in Washington, it is great to see the A.G. taking action! For National Security, the tougher the better!”
One moment President Trump hates Sessions; the next minute, the A.G. can do no wrong. Mixed signals undermine trust.
5. Don’t waste your time picking on “the little guy.” Can you recall a single instance when the former CEO of GE, Jeff Immelt, fired off a Tweet attacking, say, the owner of a small manufacturing plant in Gary, Indiana, for not producing the same productivity levels as one of GE’s mammoth plants? Of course not. It wouldn’t make any sense. Plus, it would engender all those factions who defend ‘the little guy” to rail against Immelt and GE for picking on a defenseless competitor.
While President Trump was mired knee-deep in fending-off Russian collusion allegations, threatening Kim Jong-un that the latter would face the most dire of circumstances if he kept firing off ICBMs, and pulling out of the Paris Global Climate Accord, guess who Trump decided to pick a fight with? Arnold Schwarzenegger.
- Mar 4, 2017 08:19:29 AM “Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t voluntarily leaving the Apprentice, he was fired by his bad (pathetic) ratings, not by me. Sad end to great show.”
- Schwarzenegger Reply Tweet: Mar 4, 2017 05:57:00 AM “You should think about hiring a new joke writer and a fact checker.”
6. Don’t antagonize the people who put you in the seat of power. Can you imagine Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg or any other Fortune 500 CEO deliberately pickling a public fight on Twitter with the board members who selected him for the job? Of course not. It would be akin to committing business suicide.
Not so with President Trump. He went right after his own party when they didn’t please him. Consider this attack:
- Jul 29 2017, 4:28 AM “The very outdated filibuster rule must go. Budget reconciliation is killing R’s in Senate. Mitch M, go to 51 Votes NOW and WIN. IT’S TIME!”
- 29 Jul 2017, 1:36 PM “Unless the Republican Senators are total quitters, Repeal & Replace is not dead! Demand another vote before voting on any other bill!”
You want me to work for who?
The recent USC Annenberg School of Communications survey was particularly telling. While President Trump most certainly has broken the mold for presidents he has not engendered any trust whatsoever in the communications professions. In fact, a whopping 90 percent of those surveyed said they thought Spicer, Huckabee Sanders, Scaramuchi, et. al, have badly tarnished the reputation of the position of White House press secretary. An equally astonishing 94 percent said they’d never consider working for President Trump.
Do you think at least part of that response was caused by the mixed messages, flat-out lies and backstabbing of his own supporters by the Commander-in-Chief? I’ll leave the reader to decide. But, if nothing else, I’d be sure to hand this list of lessons to the newly-minted CEO of any company, Fortune 500 or otherwise. As George Santanyana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
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For more information on how CCOs and CMOs are handling the new presidential administration, please read Peppercomm and IPR’s “A Time of Change: How CCOs and CMOs are Handling a New Presidential Administration.”
Steve Cody is Peppercomm’s Co-Founder and CEO. He is also a Trustee for the Institute for PR. Follow him on Twitter @RepManCody.