Giving yourself a sporting chance

March 10, 2016 by Alex Johnson


The resignation of Sunderland FC’s Chief Executive, Margaret Byrne, and Maria Sharapova’s admission of a drugs test failure, are classic examples of individuals operating at opposite ends of the crisis management spectrum.

Maria’s press conference at the start of the week put her firmly in control of her story. She was breaking the news to the media and explaining her version of events. The press conference was calm and measured. She appeared contrite and took responsibility for her actions. By making this bold gesture she successfully took the sting out of the scandal and garnered support from loyal fans. And, whilst it may not make a difference to a potential ban, her actions have gone someway to protect the ‘Sharapova’ brand.

By contrast, Margaret Byrne’s resignation following the Adam Johnson child sex abuse case had a very different feel. It comes after Johnson’s conviction called into question the decision she made to allow him to continue playing for the club, despite facing trial.

In comparison to Sharapova’s proactive positioning earlier this week, Byrne’s actions and Sunderland’s statement seem both reactive and laced with embarrassment and shame. Sunderland, under the leadership of Ms Byrne made poor decisions that failed to reflect the club’s clearly documented safeguarding policy regarding children’s welfare. This bad judgement resulted in the club and Ms Byrne finally acknowledging that her position had become untenable.

Both these situations demonstrate that control in a crisis, be it timing or message, is critical to stakeholder perception. They also emphasise the importance of being true to your values. Decision making during a crisis is hugely challenging, invariably you will be time and information poor, however, using your values to guide the thought process will ensure that from a reputational perspective you make well-judged choices.

For more advice on how to take control in a crisis, read our report Crisis Management: The Acid Test of Leadership.