Profiles in Failure

July 15, 2020

by James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, Fellow IABC, APR, Fellow PRSA, BEPS Emeritus

What Crisis Behavior Patterns Always Precipitate and Perpetuate Trouble and Failure

Sometimes the only way to help organizations avoid embarrassment, humiliating visibility, enormous litigation, and just plain stupidity is to illustrate dramatically the pattern of behaviors and attitudes that lead to catastrophic reputational trouble. I call this pattern “Profiles in Failure.” These behaviors can be easily recognized, and their impact predicted. If you are looking for trouble, here’s the pathway to quickly multitask your way into long-term difficulty and, if you are the leader, likely unemployment (often with a big departure bonus).

1. Silence
The most toxic strategy possible. Makes you look like a perpetrator, whether true or not. There is no credible way to explain silence in the face of crisis. Silence is the most frequent leadership career-killer in crisis situations. It’s why the boss gets fired first.

2. Stalling
Speed beats smart every time. Failure to act immediately, even incorrectly, is impossible to explain or apologize for. Doing nothing, even for what appear to be good reasons, is never explainable. #1 response criticism: failure to speak and act promptly.

3. Denial
Refuse to accept the fact that something bad has happened and that there may be victims or other direct effects that require prompt public acknowledgement.

4. Victim Confusion
Irritable reaction to reporters, angry neighbors, and victims’ families when they call asking for help, information, explanation, or apology. “Hey! We’re victims too.”

5. Testosterosis
Look for ways to hit back, rather than to deal with the problem.  Refuse to give in, refuse to respect those who may have a difference of opinion or a legitimate issue.

6. Arrogance
Reluctance to apologize, express concern or empathy, or to take appropriate responsibility because, “If we do that, we’ll be liable,” or, “We’ll look like sissies,” or, “We’ll set a precedent,” or, “There will be copycats.”

7. Search for the Guilty
Shift blame anywhere you can while digging into the organization, looking for traitors, turncoats, troublemakers, those who push back, and the unconvinceables.

8. Fear of the Media
As it becomes more clear that the problem is at least partly real, the media begin asking, “What did you know, and when did you know it?”, “What have you done, and when did you do it?”, and other humiliating, embarrassing, and damaging questions for which there are no really good, truthful answers anymore because you have stalled so long.

9. Whining
Head down, finger in your navel, shuffling around, whining, and complaining about how bad your luck is, about being a victim of the media, zealous do-gooders, wacko-activists, or people don’t know anything; about how people you don’t respect have power; and, that you “don’t get credit” for whatever good you’ve already contributed.

Execute one, some or all of these behaviors in any order and I guarantee trouble, serious reputation problems, and brand damage. By the time you recover – if you do – look for some career-defining moments including involuntary departure, and a new team may replace you and yours.

Lukaszewski’s latest book with coauthor Steve Harrison, The Decency Code, The Leader’s Path to Integrity and Trust (4/20 from McGraw-Hill), is available in hard cover, e-Book and on audio.


Jim Lukaszewski is America’s Crisis Guru®, Powerful Speaker, Important Author, Inspiring Teacher, Trusted Advisor. If you are involved in or study Public Relations anywhere in the world you will come across or use articles, books, monographs, webinars and programs by Jim. Corporate Legal Times once referred to Jim as someone to have on your speed dial, “when all hell breaks loose.”