Authentic Leadership Through Crisis
Guest: Richard Levick, Chairman & CEO of LEVICK
Hosts: Dottie Schindlinger, Executive Director of the Diligent Institute, and Meghan Day, Senior Director of Board Member Experience for Diligent Corporation
In this episode of The Corporate Director Podcast, hear Richard Levick, Chairman & CEO of LEVICK, a leading public relations and crisis communications firm, discuss how boards can lead effectively in times of company crisis.
In This Episode:
- A History in Crisis Management: Levick shares insights into his background and how that led him to his current passion of crises management.
- The Convergence of GRC and Crisis Management: Levick discusses the connection between good GRC practices and effective crisis management.
- Next Steps and Advice: Levick gives boards practical steps when it comes to crisis management and mitigation.
A History in Crisis Management Background
Levick starts by sharing his career background and how that led him to find his role in crisis management: “I was a lawyer by training and had a graduate degree in environmental advocacy and communications. It was a very niche field all that time ago.” He then discusses the changes he’s witnessed: “There was the invention of internet and now we’ve all become community organizers. We now can backchannel globally with different countries and NGOs.”
He gives more background on LEVICK, his PR and crisis communication firm: “People are usually contacting us for big crises. For example, we were involved communicating updates regarding the Boko Haram kidnapping of Chibok schoolgirls and the Gulf Oil spill, etc. When I started this firm 25 years ago, there weren’t a lot of crisis communication firms. The real difference between an advertising firm is what we specialize in: it’s important that companies and boards understand who’s on their team and how they need to think when everything’s upside down. That’s where we come in.”
Levick builds on from his earlier point: “We are living in an incredibly divided country now. Given the invasion of Ukraine, we are seeing some unifying forces at work here in response. People are beginning to think like they did in WW2: all differences are shed at the water’s edge. What does that mean?” His tips for navigating periods of intense change: “Use peacetime wisely and understand that the pace of developments will only increase.”
The Convergence of GRC and Crisis Management
Levick shares his opinion on how crisis management converges with governance, risk and compliance: “Name a company that’s approached a theological status beyond brand, like Apple, Nike or Starbucks. When something goes wrong there, what’s our instinct? We probably give them to time to correct. We give them the benefit of the doubt. You have to start with the why: Why are you in business? If it’s just profit, that’s just not good enough. It was an easier time, but it doesn’t always work anymore. The challenge is that the rules are changing quickly. How do we approach a theological relationship with our customers?”
He continues with an example, “When AIG happened, all the lobbyists were trained for the good times. When things had been turned upside down, we realized we didn’t have the lobbyists we need. Now we’re asking for things, and we don’t know how to do that. Do that kind of analysis of your teams. You need people who are humble not arrogant, and boards need to be looking forward. Know your allies before you need them.”
He goes on, “When thinking about your corporate social responsibility plans, is they just philanthropic or are they also strategic? The two really need to be combined. In the opening hours, journalists are under pressure to decide who’s the hero and who’s the villain. They often get it wrong, not because they’re lazy or sloppy but because they have a deadline. Having that company ethos stops that story in its track from entering a long-term cycle about your brand.”
Next Steps and Advice
Levick shares his opinion on how boards can start the button on managing crises: “First and foremost is succession planning. 86% of boards will ask new potential CEO if they know how to handle a crisis. The candidate says yes, and they move on. We need to dive deeper into that.”
He continues: “Half of all companies will face a crisis like this in the next two years. There is the need to really to take time with CEO in terms of leadership. It’s all about the idea of authenticity. Ask yourself the question: Would you follow them? A lot of the time, leaders who get into real trouble aren’t self-aware of the mistakes they’ve made, and you need self-awareness to make a good leader.”
“Boards don’t get digital. They’ll nod and say yes, but make sure that you have people who truly understand social developments. Give your board permission to ask stupid questions.”
- Richard Levick, Chairman & CEO of LEVICK
Also in this episode…
Levick gives his opinion on how boards are likely to change in the future: “Boards in ten years will be more diverse. The American definition of diversity is so limited. Additionally, boards will become more sophisticated on social and digital issues. I also think that the definition of ESG will evolve, specifically when it comes to the idea of ‘green.’ A lot of green energy isn’t as green as we think, and that will become part of the narrative. Existential and fast change that will continue as you look forward. You are never safe from that change.”