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What Leaders Can Learn from Britney


Britney’s brain is toxic
Originally uploaded by bowbrick

She is in the airport lounge. She is in the inflight magazine. When you walk past the duty free store there are perfumes. There is music and there are film clips. And she is all over the newspapers and magazine racks. Let’s face it, no matter how busy you are, Britney Spears is bound to have made some kind of impression upon you.

Believe it or not, there is plenty for leaders to learn from Britney Spears. In fact, she makes a great case study on how to deal with a crisis. Consider for a moment:

  • What management techniques can be employed to manage a crisis such as Britney’s?
  • What communications strategy should be followed?
  • How do you turn around a bad situation?

While we all may be fascinated by Britney Spears and her professional and personal downfall for voyeuristic reasons, there are actual, real life lessons that we can benefit from. On a personal note, I surely enjoy reading the tabloids and reading about celebrities and their trials (sometimes literally their court trials) and tribulations. For me, however, it is not about watching a car wreck for the purpose of seeing a car wreck, but rather, it is about learning how these folks, with all sorts of professionals to help them, deal with the situations they encounter. Selfishly, I like to learn from the mistakes of others so that perhaps I can avoid them all together, or at least know better how to handle them should they, or similar situations, occur in my life.

So, back to Britney. I think it is fair to say that most of us, if not all of us, can agree that she has not done a bang up job with “crisis management.” I certainly think that with all of her resources, advisors, handlers, etc., that she could have done a better job managing the media during her personal and family problems. Now, in fairness, the media hound Britney like a swarm of bees do a honey-filled hive which is clearly more than most people could bear. But, regardless, it is equally clear that her handling of the situation leaves a lot to be desired.

In my view, crises need to be handled by following what I call the STOP approach:

  • Story – I believe that a crisis is best handled head on. At various points in time, Britney dodged the media and avoided discussion. This meant that her STORY was not her own. It was left to the media to write from their own perspective. In a crisis, it is imperative that the leader OWNS the story – gather your facts, position the crisis in the context of your “big picture” strategy, and put forward your story. Remember, the crisis is about you and you will be judged by how you deal with both its resolution and its telling.
  • Timeliness – In a crisis, timeliness is critical. Take a few moments to map out a couple of key milestones that will need to be passed before your crisis is resolved. If you don’t feel capable of discussing details, explain that details will be forthcoming, but in a timeframe of YOUR choosing. Then, make sure you deliver on each of your milestones. Remember, to over communicate. Own the story. Own up to your responsibilities.
  • Objectivity – If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t speculate. Speak only to the facts. Be serious. Too often, Britney’s flippant conversations are taken out of context. A more serious tone would certainly dampen the media’s enthusiasm.
  • Professionals – Few of us have the luxury of Britney’s resources, but sometimes a crisis needs the help of a professional. Reach out to those you trust. Look at your story, think about the timelines and figure out if you have the capacity to be objective. Wherever there is a gap, consider hiring-in experienced help.

Remember, Britney tried to dodge media whenever she could and that enabled them to write the story as they saw it, not how it really was playing out for her. Britney needed to over communicate. She allowed others to take liberties in crafting the story from their own perspective. It would have been better if she had owned up to the situation, and taken ownership of the story.

Let’s face it, Britney, with all her resources and cachet, has the luxury of being able to go on nearly any talk show of her choice and communicate directly with an admiring public. This is an extravagance that most of us don’t, and most likely never will, have. If Britney had gone public with her challenges and asked for assistance from the public and others, she would likely have found a more sympathetic response. But, by running, hiding and continuing her outrageous behaviors, she seemed to thumb her nose at the media, the public and a host of voyeurs. She came off looking more like an out of control freak than a sympathetic mom going through a difficult personal period in her life.

Anyway, this is Britney’s story now and while she has to live with the consequences of her actions, we all can learn lessons from afar which we can employ in our own lives. I, for one, will certainly be better prepared to manage a crisis in my own life should one occur. Thanks Britney!


Nina nets it out: In a crisis, employ the STOP technique. Don’t let a crisis overcome you – take control of all its aspects. And remember, I’d love to hear how you have dealt with crises in your personal and professional lives. Perhaps you have a lesson you can share with us all!

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