LeBron James’s surprise announcement last Friday that he planned to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers from the Miami Heat offers important lessons for effective crisis management. Indeed, the most important lesson might be applicable to House Republicans as they plan new hearings on Benghazi this fall.
The first and most important is to admit a mistake yourself — and take responsibility.
In 2010, it will be recalled, James decided to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and go to the Miami Heat in search of an NBA championship. His big problem was not that decision but how he made his announcement — on a nationally televised ESPN special called “The Decision” — with media hype and boastful statements about himself.
Last Friday, James admitted his mistakes to Sports Illustrated reporter Lee Jenkins:
“If I had to do it all over again, I’d obviously do things differently.”
While he explained why he still believed the decision to go to play for the Miami Heat and try to win a championship title was the right one for him, he also put himself into the shoes of the Cleveland Cavaliers owner and fans to understand their anger:
“But then you think about the other side. … Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?”
James also used the classic crisis management technique of the preemptive strike, breaking the story himself in an essay on at SI.com, to control the message:
“I’m doing this essay because I want an opportunity to explain myself uninterrupted. I don’t want anyone thinking: He and Erik Spoelstra didn’t get along. … He and Riley didn’t get along. … The Heat couldn’t put the right team together. That’s absolutely not true. I’m not having a press conference or a party. After this, it’s time to get to work.”
Well done, LeBron.
So what can Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the Benghazi special committee, learn from LeBron?
Simple: admit past GOP errors about Benghazi and take responsibility.
For example, Gowdy and other congressional Republicans have repeatedly stated that a “White House political narrative” was behind the “talking points” used by Susan Rice on Sunday TV talk shows stating that the origins of the 2012 attacks were a “spontaneous demonstration … triggered by protests in Cairo.” Now we know from sworn testimony that the CIA created that phrase from the first draft of the talking points to the last — based on their honest reading of then current, conflicting intelligence reports. So Gowdy simply should say: We Republicans were wrong in repeatedly making false accusations against the Obama White House on the “talking points” issue.
Or another example: Gowdy and many congressional Republicans have repeatedly blamed the administration for a “stand down order” denying military assistance for the diplomats and U.S. intelligence personnel who were under attack by the terrorists at Benghazi. Now we know indisputably from sworn testimony by U.S. military leaders that there was never any such order. So it’s time for Gowdy and congressional Republicans to do what LeBron did: step up to the line and admit their error.
They might also anticipate avoiding a future crises for the GOP by explaining what new issues they intend to investigate that weren’t addressed by the bipartisan report of the Senate Intelligence Committee: the nonpartisan report of the State Department Accountability Review Board, the Republican-led House Armed Services Committee review and the lengthy investigation and multiple hearings conducted by the House Oversight Committee.
In other words, they need to avoid over-promising and under-delivering, as LeBron James did when he was realistic and reduced expectations about the effect of his move back to the Cleveland Cavaliers:
“I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010.”
So, Republicans on the House Special Committee on Benghazi might find it useful to remember the threshold crisis management rule when you are already in a deep hole:
Davis served as special counsel to former President Clinton and is principal in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, and is Executive Vice President of the strategic communications firm, Levick. He is the author of a recently published book, Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping with Crises in Business, Politics, and Life.