FIFA’s Failings Show Why Leadership Matters

Importance of managing crises proactively and quickly

Importance of managing crises proactively and quickly

Perhaps the most obvious lesson from the recent series of high-profile corporate crises is that ignoring an issue isn’t going to make it go away.

The most common criticism levelled at the oil company, the mobile phone brand and the gaming company was that they simply didn’t take meaningful action quickly enough.  Which suggested a certain softness at the top of the organization and that isn’t going to fill shareholders, customers, employees with anything close to confidence.

It was only when the respective CEOs were ejected, apologized on video or bowed their heads at a press conference did it seem those brands were starting to take control of the maelstrom engulfing them.  Up until then they appeared to be resisting the severity, dismissing it as no more than a slight blip in their everyday operations.

Over the last fortnight, three major sporting bodies have all had to deal with similar crises which center on racism in the sports they oversee. However, each has taken a very different approach to the situation and that has had a huge impact on their credibility.

The FA launched an immediate investigation into allegations towards players, which made the organization look strong and forceful, and sent a very direct message out to anyone playing under the FA whether in the Premiership or park football about what is and what isn’t acceptable within the sport.

However, in contrast the Professional Golf Association (PGA) and FIFA decided not to take any action on the back of comments by Tiger Woods’ ex-caddy and Sepp Blatter, and have subsequently been roundly condemned publicly by sports stars and legions of hashtag-happy tweeters (check #blatterout).

Beyond simply not showing appreciation for the sensitivity and wider public sentiment, the lack of response automatically suggests that those organizations are deeming the actions not significant (or, at worst, acceptable). Which is particularly damaging when you consider that both organizations supposedly set the tone for their global sports. And in the instance of FIFA have also spent many years making football more inclusive.

For FIFA in particular it will be very difficult to credibly continue any campaign against racism (or in fact any campaigning) when trust has been lost in the person at the head of the organization, and they are being publicly criticized by powerful figures within the sport. In addition, Sepp Blatter’s attempts to directly combat criticism from players like Rio Ferdinand over Twitter were never going to achieve anything more than ridicule, and in situations like this, taking on one person at a time is fighting a losing battle.

FIFA is a powerful organization, but like a company with huge market share, that power should not be taken for granted.  Within the last 12 months it has had greater problems of its own to deal with, but the key lesson as with all those corporate crises is to proactively manage issues that arise sooner, more decisively and with more integrity. And to show clear understanding for wider sentiment through genuine strength of leadership.

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