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Inside the Mind of a Crisis Strategist | Comunitelligence

Inside the Mind of a Crisis Strategist

James Lukaszewski asks himself six questions every day.

James Lukaszewski lives, breathes and sleeps crisis, or as he likes to refer to it, “leadership recovery.”

The author of twelve books on crisis management and leadership, Lukaszewski has been a confidential consultant to many CEO’s, their legal counsel (during litigation) and staff advisors. His latest book is: Why Should the Boss Listen to You? The Seven Disciplines of the Trusted Strategic Advisor, Jossey-Bass, 2008.

In his upcoming Communitelligence course, How to develop a strategic mindset and become a more influential adviser, he will address two key questions every business professional should be focused on:

  • Are you a strategic thinker?
  • Why should your boss listen to you?

The course will teach attendees “how to be more influential, interesting, memorable, important and how to have the kind of top-level relationships and access you need to be a trusted adviser.”

Here’s some insight into the mindset of one of America’s most well-known, quoted, prolific and important crisis and leadership communication gurus.

Your name is synonymous with crisis communication, which you say is about “leadership recovery.” Can you explain that term?

Crises today take a huge toll on leadership. They don’t fire the PR or HR people, the lawyers or marketing people. It’s the person who’s running the organization and on whose watch the crisis occurred that gets fired. (They all get a big fat check, too.). So as important as media relations, business recovery and victim management are in a crisis, helping top executives recover if they can, or exit gracefully, is an important part of crisis management.

You sometimes describe yourself as a “management anthropologist” rather than a communicator. What do you mean by that?

With all due respect to Helio Fred Garcia, a wonderful colleague from New York who coined this term years ago, the work of crisis management is the work of helping leaders and managers work through issues and problems. That means crisis managers need to be lifelong students of management and leadership behavior, understanding, thinking about and recognizing the patterns of leadership behavior and decision making in good times and bad and how they get things done. Failure to focus on the leader’s world from the start of a professional relationship prevents us from having more influence and respect. I am a student of leadership and management and those two ingredients are what makes up the work of a management anthropologist.

JimWhat’s the one trait, above all other, that communicators and PR professionals need to be seen as a trusted adviser to senior executives?

Candor, which I define as truth with an attitude delivered right now. If you work for someone who doesn’t value candor, find another place to work as trouble is on the way.

You’ve written that strategic thinking remains one of our profession’s critical weaknesses. How did you learn to develop a strategic mindset?

The way I learned to be a more strategic thinker was by systemically analyzing in real time the decisions I made and the things I was learning. One of my learning processes is to assess the following questions at the end or during of each day:

  1. What’s the most important thing I learned so far today?
  2. What is the most interesting thing I‘ve learned?
  3. What is the most useful thing I’ve learned?
  4. What do I know now that I didn’t know at the start of the day?
  5. What questions have arisen that I really need to find answers to very quickly?
  6. How will I change what I’m doing and how I’m doing it tomorrow based on what I’ve learned today?


It’s this kind of approach that helps you become a better thinker, and able to make better suggestions and recommendations on the spot.

You’ve been in public relations for more than 40 years. From all your accomplishments and successes during your career, what are you most proud of?

I actually think more about the things I‘ve failed at more than my successes. More than 20 years ago I had an opportunity to work with more than a hundred aboriginal tribes in Western Canada during their treaty negotiations with the Canadian Federal government. I was brought in by a law firm in British Columbia, met with about 70 chiefs and I thought I could really be of service helping them and their tribes through the enormous change of life they were going to experience as the treaties were signed. Many individuals and tribes would become very wealthy. At the time I was a 40-something young man from Robbinsdale, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis, who was working and living in New York and all around the U.S. Turns out, my life in the U.S. Plaines is an awfully long distance from the aboriginal tribes of Western Canada and the centuries of their pain and suffering. I wish I could have helped them more. The Chiefs listened and trusted me. Yet, To this day I think about the wonderful meetings I had with the chiefs, spouses and their children as well as leaders of the community and their spouses and children. In the end I contributed very little to resolving their issues, many of which remain to this day.

What’s your secret to staying calm in the midst of crisis, chaos and calamity?

That’s easy . . . I can remain calm because it’s my clients who are the targets, who may go to court, prison, stand in front of an angry mob of neighbors, victims or their employees rather than me. I always remind people when crisis strikes, remain calm and call America’s Crisis Guru®.

June 4, 2015

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