There seems to be no shortage of opportunities for public, media and community relations pundits to opine about what should have/could have/would have happened in any given crisis. Generally, I choose not to participate in these conversations. As an issues and crisis communications counselor, I know that those on the outside rarely – if ever – have all the facts of any given situation.
Yet, my world and Penn State intersect on several fronts. My father served on their management continuing education faculty for nearly 20 years. It was on my short list of universities where I considered pursuing my collegiate studies. Family and friends list the University as their alma mater.
Most importantly, the Penn State situation presents a powerful opportunity to address one of the most essential pieces of counsel available to us all: No matter the situation, the best option is to do the next right thing.
By and large, most adults in positions of leadership and responsibility today know right and wrong. Unfortunately, the increasingly complex world in which business and our larger society operate provides no shortage of situations in which our moral compasses can be rendered inaccurate, much as placement of a magnet near an old school compass alters its accuracy.
Reading the armchair opinions of many who comment on horrible, man-made situations, it’s easy to get the sense that following the guidance provided is simple and, clearly, the idea of doing the next right thing could be viewed as another similar installment. It’s not. Doing the next right thing – and appropriately communicating it to key audiences and constituents – involves balancing facts, perceptions, emotions, personal and institutional rights… all against the far-too-frequent first reaction to duck, cover and spin.
Like removing the errant magnet, the opportunity exists to re-true seemingly impossible situations by honestly – and, sometimes, painfully – asking that very question “What is the next right thing we can do?” While doing so can’t change history nor necessarily fix the broken, it provides the first credible points on a roadmap to righting wrongs and healing people… and institutions.