Leading Through Crisis: How The Right Person Can Right the Ship

A recent expose published by undercover investigators with the Animal Recovery Mission unleashed the wrath of the public on prominent dairy producer Fair Oaks Farms. The video, which shows animal abuse in its most extreme form, prompted many stores to pull Fairlife products from their shelves and many consumers to promise never to make a purchase from the brand again.

In the wake of such a publicity crisis that not only reflects poorly on Fair Oaks Farms but on the dairy and livestock industry as a whole, it can be nearly impossible to gain back the favor of the public eye.

But in the midst of this crisis, in the day and age when the internet spreads news and rumors alike in a similar fashion to wildfire, Fair Oaks Farms founder and owner Mike McClosky stepped up to the plate. In the completely unenviable position of the leader of a company that had committed a massive grievance, it was sink or swim.

McClosky released a video and a written statement taking full responsibility for the massive oversights that had allowed the abuse to take place at an Indiana outpost of the brand’s farm system.

While the brand still has an arduous road ahead of them and what’s likely to be an eternal uphill climb, this first step taken by McClosky is a prime example of the best way to handle a crisis.

At any given point, a crisis could erupt at any company. There may be a situation of a disgruntled employee, an ethical blunder, or even a harassment case. While none of these scenarios are simple to overcome, there is much a good leader can do to help right the ship.

Take Ownership

One of the most underrated qualities of a good leader is that of humility. Humility is what enables individuals to take responsibility for their role in a mishap. Often, the face or leader of the company is who must bear the brunt of responsibility.

In Mike McClosky’s case, was he the one raising his hands to the innocent animals at the dairy farm? No. Did he endorse this abuse? No. And yet, it is, at the end of the day, his responsibility to ensure that these errors do not happen. This is his company, and it is his face that people will remember when they hear the name Fair Oaks Farms.

It can be difficult to stomach taking responsibility for something that you did not directly have a hand in. But this is something that comes with the territory of being in a position of authority or leadership.

Show, Don’t Tell

Actions speak louder than words. How often have we all heard this phrase uttered as a piece of advice or even as a warning?

This advice can be applied to companies facing a crisis, too. Sure, it’s easy to release a statement and promise to do better, to right wrongs. But what happens when six months down the road nothing has changed? This could be even more damaging than the initial blunder may have been.

Losing the trust of the public (and of employees) can be devastating for a company. Time will tell if Fair Oaks Farms is up to the challenge of showing that they’re committed to doing better. But one thing that a person in the captain’s chair should remember is that words are only valuable for so long. Without action to back them up, there is no leg to stand on.

Managing a crisis is not a task for the faint of heart. In fact, it can make or break the career of the individual tasked with navigating through the storm. Strong leaders, however, can show their skill set and maturity to right the ship and bring the company through to the other side, stronger and more improved than ever.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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