Mayor doesn't recognize the risk of his beliefs over Floyd death until after he communicates them
Communication discipline is a critical skill for people in a position of leadership if its important to them to build or retain credibility, trust and reputation. One Southern mayor, triggered emotionally, either forgot that truism or never learned.
Hal Marx, the mayor of Petal, Miss., made reckless statements about George Floyd's murder at the knee of Minneapolis, Minn. police officer Derek Chauvin, and he's paying for it in the media and court of public opinion. He'll wear his own type of scarlet letter for his error.
Mark tweeted that he “didn’t see anything unreasonable” and “if you can say you can’t breathe, you’re breathing.” The first statement is his opinion, although maybe not one a person in his position of authority should be communicating. His second comment lacked any sort of depth of understanding, empathy, compassion or leadership intelligence.
"Mr. Marx, I'd like you to meet reputation crisis."
"Reputation crisis, you'll be shadowing Mr. Marx for the foreseeable future."
The catalyst for Marx's social media communication was not nefarious. He felt the police were being excessively criticized and parts of the story were missing. Maybe noble intent, even if he was engaging in his own type of confirmation bias.
"Video doesn’t show his resistance that got him in that position. Police being crucified," Marx said.
While Marx lives in America and will think what he will and has freedom of speech, what he's interpreting from the video is not how much of America and other countries are interpreting from it.
Marx, quoted in the Hattiesburg American, stressed he felt there was a rush to judgment in vilifying the police, which likely earned him respect from law enforcement, which seemed like siding with at least one likely felon, Chauvin.
“I think that people are so quick to judge the police before they have all the facts,” he said.
“I can’t say whether a crime was committed or whether they did anything right or wrong, all I’m saying is don’t rush to judgment based on what you see in that video," he said in his interview with the newspaper.
What Marx said can't be undone. It's highly regrettable in his motivation to support the police and be a voice of reason in his estimation, that he lacked near total empathy for Floyd, a hurting race of people and a large segment of the country in general.
So, what now? This is not going to blow over for Marx. This is the type of story that will prove to have legs and stay burning. Marx, without some wisdom of crisis management will always be remembered, unfavorably, for what he said. He might survive yet he will always be "that guy (said with derision)."
If he values relationships with all people, values his political well-being and all the benefits that accompany it, he must gather himself, and with sustained poise, humility, much more peripheral vision and deeper understanding than he's showed, start problem solving with precision and competence.
Marx has to realize what he said hurt many people and why so and then communicate that with sincerity of remorse and detailed apology with no minimizing the negative impact of what he said, and also with no defensiveness or blame shifting.
He will have to stand and actively listen to upset people, never a desirable or easy task and show that he understands, that he "gets it."
He must express a commitment backed with action and with a specific time frame to make amends and do better. He must not only make ongoing public statements that align with remorse, apology and advocacy for more professional policing, he also will have to meet with his community face to face to heal wounds.
Yes, Marx is correct, society is prone to a rush to judgment and has been wrong before by jumping to conclusions yet video and the known facts don't support what Marx is inferring (that some other part of the story makes the police force acceptable and someone that it didn't contribute to Floyd's death).
Does Marx have the character to be trusted with leadership responsibility and authority?
How he alone or he and a professional he hires conduct crisis communications and crisis management will determine that answer. It must be done promptly, skillfully, thoroughly or the consequences and possible punishment will loom heavy and likely occur soon and ongoing. His reputation will never recover, never be rebuilt otherwise.
The silver lining is that this reputation crisis is also a big opportunity for Marx to learn from his errors, develop his emotional intelligence and build closer and stronger relationships.
Michael Toebe is a specialist for reputation, professional relationships communication and wiser crisis management, serving individuals and organizations. He also writes the Red Diamonds Newsletter, a weekly publication on Medium and is the host of the Red Diamonds Podcast with Michael Toebe.