Don’t let selfishness fuel PR disasters

Founder and principal at The Drill, Gerry McCusker, looks at the tests of leadership that can emerge with the wrong person.

As well as being an exemplar of sporting behaviour, ethics and performance, the most telling quality of a great captain is their consistent ability to put the welfare of  ‘the team’ first.

When personal ego and gratification desires infect any leader, it clouds their decision-making and, inevitably, imperils the image, reputation and welfare of the office and interests they profess to cherish above all others. In any walk of life from business to government, celebrity and even sport, when any individual’s sense of selfish entitlement – I want, I deserve, I need this – outmuscles their levels of personal humility, the spectre of a public relations fiasco will always lurk close by.

Selfishness impacts others

Of course, the other thing that’s harmed by any kind of selfish entitlement is the reputation of the person’s colleagues. Sometimes, peers make good faith yet ill-judged decisions about people’s suitability for a leadership role, bafflingly ignoring any seedy secrets lying beneath the surface veneer of propriety. Such a blithe approach to issues and risk management amounts to crossing fingers and hoping against the worst.  Resultantly, the PR blowback on any brand or business can actually be bigger than the ire aimed at the bad PR perpetrator themselves – both seem ‘in on the deceit’ and are held equally accountable for the hurt caused.

Different types of ball-tampering

Take the topical case of ex-Australia cricket captain Tim Paine. He was appointed directly in the wake of a prior captaincy scandal in that sport, where his predecessor had been party to an entirely different type of ball-tampering than what Tim’s ‘sexts’ pertained to.

Paine knew he was being anointed as a much-needed, squeaky clean replacement for the game’s much-tarnished captaincy. Cricket Australia saw the externally wholesome Tim as a great solution to their leadership woes. But both were kinda living a lie and ignorant to the inevitable pain that must accrue when – as the adage goes – ‘Truth will out’!

Cricket advisors, family, mentors and playing peers must have understood the weight of Tim-as-clean-captain’s responsibility, and the necessity that he not only be match-fit but ‘fit for purpose’ for a role that demanded the highest standards of character, not just stewardship. Was he the Mr Right appointment to take on the mantle of restoring the repute of a grime-stained game? Or was he, at the time, Mr Right Now?

Some were surely aware that Tim’s secret sexting issues that pre-dated his appointment – if ever aired publicly – were a PR disaster waiting to inflict sizable damage on all parties?

Team Australia or Team Paine?

Yet it’s a bloody good earner, that captain lark. The personal rewards can doubtless set you up for life. There are contracts and salaries from federal and state cricket bodies. There are ad campaign spots, media roles and social freebies and perks, product endorsements, personal appearance fees and, later, overseas contracts to consider. Plus all that charitable foundation work. Yep, the rewards and responsibilities are equally weighty. From a self-enrichment POV, it’d be hard to turn all those attractive benefits – and millions – down.

That surely begs the question: was Tim really playing for Team Australia or Team Paine?

Someone with genuine leadership integrity mustn’t just grab the captain’s role – and all its enticements, entitlements, perks and rewards – because it’s offered to them. Similarly, any CEO, politician or public servant whose job sees wider welfare as absolutely kernel to their remit, really needs to self-reflect on their suitability for the gig – and its inevitable scrutiny!

Yet who among us has the kind of strength needed to eschew such rewarding and self-serving gratifications? Who among our leaders honestly serves their captain’s role, or does it mostly serve them?

Anyone can cause PR disasters

Any individual at any organisation has the power to create a PR disaster, which is why training and vigilance are essential to highlight to staff their role in protecting brand issues and risks.

It’s especially true when they know their past actions and integrity can be a ticking time bomb for them, the employer and the wider industry.

Cricket Australia needed a totally clean start after the Steve Smith debacle. Turns out Tim wasn’t that Mr Clean, which eventually compounded cricket’s legendary leadership and public relations problems.

But his playing captaincy wasn’t entirely without gratification, while it lasted.

Gerry McCusker is the founder and principal at The Drill.


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