When choosing to be a firebrand, you tend to make enemies in politics and business. Though you gain short-term notoriety and valuable name recognition, being a firebrand is a calculated decision. The risks are great and, as history proves, rarely pay off. Those who choose this route–crafting a reputation by attacking opponents–often neglect the fundamentals of building allies and generating authentic support.
A firebrand’s hubris foreshadows a plummet in popularity as rapid as that of Icarus after flying too close to the Sun.
Recent allegations against Rep. Matt Gaetz illustrate how difficult it can be for an individual, company, or brand to recover once the proverbial wax begins to melt.
It seems another accusation or detail comes to light in the Gaetz matter daily: fake IDs, flight records, pardon requests, plea deals, Venmo, investigations etc. Having a fresh, bad-news story emerge every day is one of the worst crisis scenarios.
In the Gaetz case, as pieces of the puzzle (legitimate or not) debut, the firebrand’s enemies on Capitol Hill, in the Administration and even the media are at the ready to kick more/harder as it is perceived the opponent is down.
On the other hand, finding support for Gaetz, or anyone in a crisis, is tough, but not impossible.
'A Little Help from My Friends'
Emerging successfully and rebuilding after a crisis requires, in part, help and validation from others. Those who try to go it alone usually fail, owing to pressure from enemies made along the way.
With a team of allies, or even a select few, the burden of defending against allegations can be shared. If the only defender is the accused, doubt inevitably erupts.
A sound reemergence strategy to repair damage from crisis, and the behaviors before it, are critical to avoid sharing the same fate as Icarus. Seek forgiveness. Apologize. Commit to change your behavior. When done sincerely, these will go a long way.
In politics, business, and in our society, those who work to support one another and build constructively are much better positioned to weather a crisis should one erupt. Building solid relationships will result in allies speaking out to help or at least offering to do so in a time of need.
Loyalty from others is earned in peacetime and proven in crisis.
In the case of Rep. Gaetz, his numerous denials and a bizarre interview with Tucker Carlson seem to have hurt him. Combined with the silence of all but a few other members of Congress, additional news about the investigations, and even conservatives questioning his future–he seems almost completely alone in this crisis.
Authenticity in a Crisis
In crisis, there is safety in numbers–and lessons all observers can learn.
As an individual or entity chooses disruption and embraces the firebrand image, they must remember the fundamentals of strategic communication. Be honest and as transparent as possible. Stay on message.
In addition, be careful and deliberate about the friends, and enemies, that you make along the way–as these allies and adversaries make a difference when credibility is challenged.
If the allegations against him are false, as Gaetz claims, he still may have an opportunity to repair his reputation. Attention spans are short, even though investigations are long.
He must stop the overzealous defense of himself. Instead, Gaetz should use his energy to prove he can be a loyal and effective ally to colleagues in Washington and constituents in Florida. If he works to build back trust–he has a chance, offering all a valuable lesson:
When making a name and building a brand, be sure to choose allies as carefully as you target enemies–and have a plan of how to get back up after a fall.
Dan Rene is a strategic communications counselor with kglobal