[BOOK REVIEW] The Communicators: Leadership in the Age of Crisis

I just finished reading The Communicators: Leadership in the Age of Crisis by Richard Levick and Charles Slack. For regular readers of this blog – you may recall a two part series back in 2009 on this blog – here and here – where Mr. Levick participated in a question and answer format on the topic of reputation risk. I have a lot of respect for the work Mr. Levick and his firm Levick Strategic Communications performs for their clients. “Why?” you might ask; the answer is risk management and leadership management.

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RISK MANAGEMENT

The majority of the readers of this blog have information risk management backgrounds. So I will speak to risk management first. I am going to define risk as the probable frequency and probable magnitude of future loss. For those familiar with the FAIR risk analysis methodology – specifically the taxonomy – you will recall that in the “loss magnitude” side of the taxonomy there are concepts such as “duration of loss”, “effect of loss” and “secondary stakeholders” that can inflict secondary loss against our company when a bad event occurs.

The Communicators is filled with examples about how an individual, business leaders, or organizations as a whole – can impact (both good and bad) the duration and effect of loss as well as effectively manage the perceptions of secondary stakeholders – when a bad event (or crisis) occurs. As risk practitioners, it is no longer acceptable to just know that a big loss event can impact our employer’s reputation or other more-tangible loss forms. We have to be able give real –yet practical – scenarios and examples of loss forms. Better yet, we need to offer additional value by asking tough questions that could shed light on a systemic weakness in existing plans to deal with a crisis when it does occur.

For the information risk practitioner, the following sections stood out to me:

Section 1: The Blind Spot. While this section is more about courage and leadership; there are time honored nuggets of wisdom in this section that we should embrace no matter what your role or title in the organization is.

Section 6: Leadership in the Digital Era. Social media is a double-edged sword – every information risk practitioner knows it. While social media can enable our company it can also be an information distribution mechanism that can damage our company’s reputation and ability to minimize loss in minutes compared to days, weeks or even months. Read this section to get great perspective on social media and the risks associated with it.

Note: With regards to the subject of risk management and its relationship with “bad” events. A crisis does not need to be initiated by something “bad” or an actual loss event. The Communicators gives a few examples of these scenarios (Rule #35; When Facts Don’t Matter, Forget The Facts).

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LEADERSHIP MANAGEMENT

As a former Marine, I cringe when I hear the words manager and leader used synonymously. Some organizations now even call all their managers “people leaders”. Philosophically, I can appreciate what is trying to be accomplished. But let’s face it there are managers out there that could not lead their teams out of an open door. I make such analogies to convey that leadership means something special to me. Thus, when I pick up a book that contains advice or examples of leadership – it better be good. The Communicators far exceeded my expectations.

If I was mentoring someone on the topic of leadership, using The Communicators as a mentoring aid and only had time to discuss one section; that section would be…

Section 9: Internal Leadership. The concept of ‘servant leadership’ is not necessarily new. Levick writes “Servant leadership defines the supervisory missions in terms of helping subordinates succeed and achieve through appreciation and reinforcement, not intimidation” (206). Just imagine a company where this approach was really embedded into its culture – not just a talking point on a PowerPoint slide deck that is helping your co-worker catch up on sleep and drool on him or herself. Better yet – forget about the manager / subordinate or corporate training aspect – what if everyone applied the concept of “servant leadership” in some or all aspects of their lives? Imagine how much more different our relationships and quality of life could be.

Leadership is not just about you and something you do relative to others. It is a mindset that can be leveraged at various levels of abstraction (personal, social, professional…) for those willing to embrace it.

In summary, I really enjoyed The Communicators and highly recommend it to anyone in the information risk management profession or anyone else that is serious about managing their career – regardless of your role or title.

Bene valete ac me vobis prodesse spero (“I bid farewell and hope I may help you”)

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