A beloved member of our community was suddenly in the news for a very serious legal matter. This issue, which he had kept a secret, took everyone by surprise. His mugshot was on every social media feed and mainstream local media. We had no time to brace for it. It was a gut punch for us personally.
More than that, we immediately felt the collective weight of grief our church would experience. Like in any crisis, “information” was moving at breakneck speed but we felt like we were in slow motion.
We called in a friend with experience to help us.
Kem Meyer coached us on the importance of truth and timing in a situation like this. We learned that when organizational trust is collaterally wounded like this, leaders must recognize the very real injury and not exacerbate it with a misguided attempt at damage control. Kem gave insight on some of the pitfalls organizations face when they attempt to sidestep difficult truths or stonewall reasonable questions.
We had to balance the tension between transparency and responsibility. Together we constructed an approach that took all the legal, personal, and sensitive information into consideration and built a response plan guided by integrity and empathy.
We worked together to create important anchor tools that steadied our team from drifting toward emotionalism or assumptions. We created a timeline that kept us focused on making progress. Our entire leadership was equipped with an appropriate talking points fact sheet.
We’ve learned leaders cannot guide people through these kinds of situations in an information fog. At the same time, not all information is legally available and we will never know the entire story. No matter what role we have in an organization, someone will ask us hard questions. So we took some prep time to anticipate FAQs from those inside and outside our organization and coached our teams on how to keep conversations healthy for everyone’s sake.
We rarely get to brace for a shock like this. But we can be prepared with a response framework so that when it happens, we’re not frantically trying to figure out the next step or reinvent the approach. We know emotional stakes are high when the news is difficult and quickly spreading.
Getting a plan and toolkit in place provided us with much needed headspace and eliminated any panic response that could cause subsequent pain for our people. There’s always a crisis around the corner, but our response doesn’t have to be one.