Usually when I write about what CEOs should do in their first 100 days, the listening tour pops up. CEOs are advised to travel to facilities and ask employees and customers what’s on their minds, what the company could be doing better or not doing at all, what they wish the CEO would do or not do, and where they think the business is headed in general. Even “insider” CEOs who have been with the company for three or more years need to go on listening tours. People will tell CEOs things they would never tell anyone else. I always recall how Xerox’s former CEO Ann Mulcahy went on a listening tour when she was first named CEO although she had been with the company for 25 years. She quickly sent a message that there was plenty for her to learn.
So I chuckled to myself when I read a recent article about Governor Sanford — the one who had the affair with the Argentine woman while conveniently telling everyone that was hiking and unreachable. The Governor is now going on a “forgiveness” tour around the state of South Carolina asking for repentance for his sins. Despite having written a book on reputation recovery, I guess that this is one kind of recovery tactic that I had not thought of. Most people in public relations would advise someone in the Governor’s situation to get the bad news out all at once and put an end to it at once. But the Governor continues to extend his front page scandal beyond the pale of reality. I kept waiting to hear that he has started a “forgiveness blog.”
I tried to think of other red-faced CEOs or politicians who went on forgiveness tours and none leaped to mind. Former NY governor Eliott Spitzer had the wisdom to stay out of the spotlight and slowly emerge one year later to redeem his reputation. I have always contended that he will manage to redeem himself over the long term. Michael Miliken redeemed his reputation by participating in very worthwhile and noble deeds but not with a forgiveness tour. Enron’s Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling never went on a forgiveness tour although they had time before their trials began. They must have crossed the idea off their lists.
The idea of a forgiveness tour might be one and the same with a listening tour because Governor Sanford’s constituents probably have alot of advice to give him on the topic of marital infidelity. I just hope he listens carefully while asking for atonement.