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What's Your Oil Spill?
August 27, 2010
Written By: Eileen Wixted, Guest Blogger

“I just want to get my life back .” 

These words were heard around the world just seconds after leaving the lips of BP Chief Executive Officer, Tony Hayward.  Whether Mr. Hayward’s comments were intentional, or the result of his exhausting schedule managing the Deepwater Horizon crisis, is not known. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. In today’s age of instant communication where a random thought can define your leadership ability – managing your communication risk is a business necessity.
Most senior executives will never have to manage an actual oil spill. But there are multiple “oil spills” that have the potential to impact your credibility, career or company’s brand. One of the biggest pitfalls in assessing communication risk is being too optimistic. We call this syndrome: fatal optimism. The leak isn’t that big, the clean-up will go more quickly, customers will be more forgiving. 
Not true.
Set expectations and be realistic. Challenge your senior team’s assumptions. How do you know the security breach is limited to only one-thousand customers? Be vigilant about asking questions. 
All too often we want to believe the best, it makes us feel better. But in business, just as in real life the best case scenario is not always reality.
What you don’t know will hurt you. 
In all business issues there is a category of information we simply do not know. The current salmonella outbreak and massive recall of eggs is a good example of new details adding problems to the credibility of the farm owner, regulators, and food industry as a whole. 
The farm owner has been characterized as a habitual offender – why has he been able to stay in business? Why have new tougher food safety regulations not been implemented? All too frequently, the more you learn the worst it gets.
This means as a senior leader you must lead the communication efforts. You must be vigilante about developing a few core messages and communicating to multiple audiences in real time. In today’s age of instant communication you must exercise message and medium discipline. 
Your career may count on it.
If you would like to learn more about how to manage your communication risk join us for “What’s Your Oil Spill” an informative workshop on crisis communication for senior leaders. The program will be held on September 10, 2010 at Glen Oaks Country Club, West Des Moines, Iowa. We are slated to begin at 7:30 a.m. and wrapped up by 11:30 a.m.    If you have questions please feel free to email me Eileen Wixted at ewixted@wpntworld.com.

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