The Worst Kind of Leader Hides

Posted July 10, 2013 in Communication, Latest News & Insights

All week the horrific images of the devastation caused by the train derailment and massive explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec have been all over the media.  We’ve seen and heard interviews with families shattered beyond comprehension, awaiting confirmation of what they already know but hope beyond hope is not true.  There are businesses gone in a flash and community meeting spots completely erased.  And there is an environmental disaster underway as the tankers leak their contents into a river that provides drinking water for multiple communities.

And in the midst of this devastation, Montreal, Main Atlantic Railway (MMA) chairman Edward Burkhardt has failed miserably as a leader.  We’ve heard finger pointing, complaints about his 20 hour work days “dealing with this” and denial of even the slightest notion that his railway’s practices might have contributed to this catastrophe.  What we haven’t heard is deafening.  His response is reminiscent of BP’s CEO Tony Hayward’s “I want my life back” comment in the face of one of the worst environmental disasters on the planet and where worker’s lives were lost.

I’m no PR expert but I am a human being who well understands the impact of trauma, grief and tragedy in people’s lives.  I also understand what exemplary leaders would do under such dreadful circumstances.

Firstly, we’d hear a heartfelt expression of condolences and sympathy for every person impacted by this dreadful tragedy.  There would be an assurance that the organization was cooperating fully with the authorities to unravel what went wrong.  Every resource the company could muster would be on the ground, supporting the community.   And the leader would be brave enough to walk amongst the survivors, feel and see their pain, and simply listen.  That’s what a real leader would do.

Let’s hope Edward Burkhardt comes through and does the right thing.  All leaders make mistakes.  It’s how quickly we remedy them that contributes to our legacy.

Guest post by Dr. Brenda Marshall, The Solacium Group.

ADDENDUM:  Since originally posting this blog MNR’s Chairman did in fact arrive in town and faced survivors.  He accepted responsibility, promised financial aid and apologized.

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