When an organization is facing an issue or a crisis, emotions are running high. I’ve been there when the proverbial sh***t hits the fan.  Trust me there’s lots of emotion involved.  The leaders I have worked with generally turn their initial emotion into energy to solve the problem. So, what’s wrong with sharing that emotion – sorrow, outrage, anger, frustration in their response to the situation? Nothing.  In fact, it’s a time to emulate Hallmark. To paraphrase their famous slogan; Crisis is a time when you should care enough to send your very best.

In fact, I believe that leaders who can express their genuine emotions (keyword is genuine) show they are human and that’s OK. The classic example of this was Michael Mc Cain during the listeria crisis his company Maple Leaf Foods faced.  By expressing his feelings openly, he became a general leading his troops in a war against listeria and the undisputed champion of food safety.

Contrast him to the way Uber faced sexual harassment; United Airlines dealt with passenger “bumping” or the way Sears Canada is handling their bankruptcy. There are three steps to making an apology or responding to a situation. And for those leaders who include all three, the results can be powerful and healing.

Those steps are:

  1. Acknowledge what has happened – only the facts.
  2. Commit to action – now what?
  3. Express your emotions -anger, frustration, sorrow, shock.

Leave out a step, and you may find yourself in a deeper hole than if you had not responded at all.  But the most important one of all is the first.

Does that mean you have to cry in front of the camera? Not at all.  What might have happened if:

  • Uber had said: When an employee’s trust is violated in our workplace, we all feel betrayed and ashamed. We cannot change what has happened but we will …
  • United had said: We watched the video with shock and horror.  We never want to see a passenger treated this way again nor do we want other passengers and our flight crews to be witness to this kind of brutality.  We are going to…
  • Sears Canada had said: Filing for protection from creditors is a painful step. Legally, there are some steps in this process that won’t make sense or may seem unfair – we understand that. We also know that the people who are and were the public face of our company are facing financial hardships and may even feel betrayed by this process. Our goal is to minimize the impact on individuals as much as we can within the confines of the legal process.

It’s just possible that simple words like these could have mitigated damages and formed the foundations of a recovery. Instead, one CEO, who got a second chance, lost his job; one CEO had his (pardon the pun) wings clipped and one retail institution is facing extinction.