You turn up for work as normal at 9 o’clock on a Monday morning only to discover that six patients in the hospital you run have gone down with MRSA and are on death’s doorstep.
Or, the quality control division that you head has failed to spot serious defects in a batch of brake linings that your company manufactures, resulting in hundreds of motorists across the world having car crashes.
Or, the train company you run has just notched up the worst punctuality record since the days of George Stephenson.
How do you respond when the media start closing in on you?
In such circumstances, the reaction of many people is to try to deny the undeniable. Obfuscation becomes the name of the game. All sorts of language is deployed, aimed at throwing the media and the public off the scent. Platitudes like “disappointed” spill from the lips of those suddenly under fire.
The problem is, the public, let alone the media, are not stupid. They can read through such obvious attempts to duck-and-weave.
Another favourite ruse of those who mess up is to hide behind the fact that an inquiry has been set up, citing the rules of ‘sub judice’. The fact that most inquiries, especially the internal kind, are in no way bound by the same rules that apply to an Old Bailey trial is usually glossed over by the person in question.
Then, there’s the attempt to blame somebody else – a passing-of-the-buck manoeuvre.
All of the above only serves to whet further the appetite of journalists. Such tactics will backfire, serving to fuel the determination of reporters to get to the root of what’s happened and the degree of culpability that can be laid at the feet of the person in question.
A far better approach is one of honesty – to own up to the mistake you’ve made, apologise to anyone who’s been affected and promise to put things right using all the measures at your disposal.
This won’t kill off the story and nor will it avert a resignation. But then, if things are that serious, resignation will follow however well or badly you perform in front of the TV cameras or in newspaper interviews. Assuming your mishap has not been seismic, you have a better chance of surviving and of the story waning if you come clean at the outset.