Insight # 9
Leaders Know the First Report is Usually Wrong
|As a leader, the requirement to communicate accurate information is extremely important. In a crisis situation the stakes increase, the leader not only requires accurate information, the information needs to be communicated to constituents in timely fashion.
Unfortunately, the information the leader receives as a first report is usually wrong, inaccurate, and/or sketchy. This results because of the fog of war – multiple observers/sources, multiple reports, different vantage points and different perspectives, to include – personal experiences, varying backgrounds, ingrained biases, thoughts, opinions, personalities, and various assumptions that come into play.
During a crisis situation, information is reported so fast that it has not coalesced into a full picture of the event, so what you see are numerous parts of the story being reported in a piecemeal fashion. Particularly, in today’s social media based environment – an event is uploaded to YouTube in real-time and flashed around the world in a matter of minutes.
People tend to overreact to first reports – in politics; candidates use information as weapons against their opponents; in business, bad information can cause billions of dollars to be lost from a company’s market value; in media, respected television anchors have been fired based on reporting bad information.
Since leaders are information conduits and information is the key to being an effective leader; a leader without good information, is a leader at a severe disadvantage. In a crisis situation, information is even more important; the quicker the leader receives information, the better the leader is able to respond. When should a leader respond? How fast?
During a crisis situation, the leader should wait as long as he can - but no longer, to make a statement about what happened, why, and what he plans to do about it. If the leader waits too long, other people, organizations, and particularly opponents will fill the information void – most likely with inaccurate information and the leaders’ immediate future will be spent responding to and attempting to correct bad information.
The leader has to practice strategic patience and use time to allow the story to mature and for the event to play out before he will truly understand the full breadth and depth of the event. It takes time for the actual observers of the event to get a sense of how the pieces fit together to form a full picture.
The deadly crisis in Benghazi, Libya is a good example, where a U.S. Ambassador and three additional U.S. personnel were killed. Was it a terrorist attack on a U.S. consulate or a protest in response to a video degrading Islam? What if it were both? What if both events occurred and were connected? What if both events occurred and were unconnected? At this point, we don’t know if the events were connected, but we do know that the first report issued by the U.S. Department of State was inaccurate at best.
We have to be very careful about the information we report because, oftentimes, lives could hang in the balance based upon the accuracy of the report. The leader is counting on accurate information to make decisions; however, accuracy may be at odds with how much time is available to develop the situation and to report.
A leader has to be very careful about what he says; otherwise, his words or statements may make the situation worse than it already is or be misconstrued and used against him by opponents. We all must understand that the truth will probably change after time has passed. Generally, an early report based upon the facts is the key, followed by a detailed report after the situation has been developed.
Additional tips to overcome the impact of bad first reports:
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