Lloyd Austin Lets Down His Defenses

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For a guy with the word “Defense” right in his job title, it is ironic that Lloyd Austin’s public apology regarding the cover-up of his recent hospitalization contained no defensiveness at all.

A subscriber called my attention to the Defense Secretary’s mea culpa with this note:

“After the disaster of not disclosing initially, this press conference made me not only neutral but sympathetic.”

I agree. Take a look at the clip below and I’ll give you four crisis management tips we can take from it.

1. (:05) Show Don’t Tell

By starting his remarks with a brief medical update, Lloyd signaled that he is rectifying his much-criticized secrecy with candor. He is backing up his apology with action, not to mention reassuring people who may be genuinely concerned about his health.

2. (:22) The Eyes Have It

Don’t underestimate the power of good old-fashioned eye contact; in this case, straight into the camera. While a teleprompter would have allowed even greater connection with his audience, Austin’s willingness to come up from his notes and look right at us made his remarks feel that much more authentic.(Pro tip: when Zooming, look into the little green dot, not the faces on your monitor).

3. (1:05) Announce Corrective Measures

It isn’t always possible to reveal remedies immediately after a crisis, but Lloyd has had time to think about his mistakes, and therefore needed to explain what changes he intends to make. Contrast his highly specific promises with vague post-crisis pledges to “do better next time.”

4. (1:53) No Excuses

“I am offering all this as an explanation, and not an excuse.” —Excuses dilute the power of a genuine apology. Avoid them.

It is certainly possible that Lloyd’s motivation was less about altruism and more about job preservation. But one can separate the motive from the performance, and Lloyd’s presentation made him a Media Master.

Mark Bernheimer

Mark Bernheimer is a former CNN correspondent and the founder of MediaWorks Resource Group, an internationally renowned media training and consulting firm.