C-Suite Personal Branding Series by Inna Kuts. The Art of Thought Leadership in Crisis: An Executive’s Strategy Guide.

The Art of Thought Leadership in Crisis: An Executive’s Strategy Guide

On the virtual stage, thought leaders find their every action enlarged and scrutinized by a global audience. Most of them realize that, which is why they put a lot of work into being positively perceived by the public.

But what happens when those efforts backfire? Take Paddy Cosgrave, the CEO of Web Summit, who stepped down after his post about the Israel-Palestine conflict triggered widespread controversy. His resignation came just a week after the contentious post, which not only went viral but also resulted in significant backlash, including the withdrawal of key commercial partners.

Cosgrave, like many executives before him, found himself in the challenging position of a serious personal branding crisis.

Let’s take a look at these kinds of predicaments, how they develop, and how you can solve them.

Recognizing a Crisis

The first step to solving a crisis is recognizing that you have one. In Cosgrave’s case, this was pretty obvious. These kinds of serious missteps usually happen when a thought leader doesn’t understand their audience. They may think that their audience isn’t as big as it is, or they may underestimate their following’s diversity.

Paddy Cosgrave on the WebSummit stage.

However, other times a crisis may be a little more subtle. For example, you may simply notice a decline in the reach or engagement of your posts. Other KPIs you can monitor to stay ahead of a crisis include decreases in conversion, sales, revenue, refunds, recommendations, and testimonials.

Immediate Steps to Address the Crisis

However it arises, a crisis inevitably leads to one thing: damage to your personal brand and overall reputation. The longer it’s left unaddressed, the more severe the damage becomes. That’s why when a crisis happens, you need to act on it immediately.

  • The first thing you need to do is get all of your internal stakeholders on board. This will allow you to form a plan and unify your message. Once you have your message crafted, it’s easier to get out in front of a crisis and control the narrative.
  • Above all, you need to be transparent and honest. Don’t try to hide the problem or hope it just goes away on its own. That will only make the situation worse. Addressing a crisis won’t be particularly enjoyable for you. And chances are, your first impulse is going to be to try to justify your actions or deflect blame. Do not do this. Instead, apologize and take responsibility. Express regret and remorse. Explain what happened, what you did wrong, what you’re doing to fix it, and how you’re going to make sure it never happens again.

Long-Term Strategies to Rebuild Trust

After the immediate effects of a crisis have subsided, it’s time to start building your brand equity back. This isn’t going to happen overnight, though. Instead, you’re going to need to implement some long-term strategies to get the job done.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Take actions to prove you’ve learned about your mistakes.
  • Launch a philanthropic campaign.
  • Share social media content that supports the image you’re trying to rebuild.
  • Connect with other thought leaders that project an image you want to associate yourself with.

When I say that these are “long-term” strategies, I really mean that. It can take years to rebuild the trust you’ve lost with your audience. But it’s the only way that you can recover from these kinds of crises.

The Role of External Consultants

If you’re not able to establish a long-term plan to rebuild trust in your personal brand, it may be time to bring in a ringer.

If you’re going to hire an external consultant, do it as early as possible. Don’t give them too much operational freedom, either. Instead, keep their roles narrowly-tailored to specific tasks or issues. You should also consider the image of the consultant you hire. Does it align with the values you’re trying to project at a crucial time?

You can’t hide behind a PR consultant. It’s your personal brand, so you need to be the one who’s out in front of your audience. Keep the role of external consultants to strategic response.

Personal Growth and Lessons from Crisis

After you’ve navigated your way out of crisis mode and started rebuilding your personal brand’s equity, it’s time to take a deep breath and look at what transpired.

Take a look at what led to the crisis, how you handled it, and what you can learn from the entire experience.

Pay attention to each action you took — both the right and the wrong ones — to help yourself grow into a more effective thought leader.

Wrapping Up

Stumbling into a personal branding crisis isn’t a fun experience. But with resilience and adaptability, you will find the light at the end of the tunnel. Don’t give up.

As the significance of executive branding continues to grow in the upcoming years, this is the very moment to refine your online presence. Ready to dominate on LinkedIn and elevate your executive profile like never before? Visit innakuts.com, DM or reach out to me at ik@innakuts.com.



C-Suite Personal Branding Series

A weekly newsletter on personal branding for CEOs, executives, and entrepreneurs.