A slip of the lip can sink your ship

There are many business lessons to be gleaned from this summer’s political conventions. Perhaps the most notable was the practice of “walking it back” when there were slips of the lip that most assuredly could sink any ship.

Arguably topping the list was the prime-time speech by Melania Trump, Donald’s impressive better half.

Her only significant shortcoming was the lack of judgment on the part of her speechwriters and advisers. They failed her when it became apparent within minutes after she ended with “G-d Bless America” that she had either intentionally or unintentionally purloined key phrases from Michelle Obama’s similar presentation eight years ago.

Instead of instantly “walking it back” and fessing up to the lapse in judgment, the advisers stonewalled for more than 24 painful hours, while tons of ink in the print media and hours of broadcast coverage were devoted to this mega mistake on the lake in Cleveland — this time committed by people, not the now winning revitalized municipality. Subsequently, it was confessed that a staffer committed the snafu.

Not only was Mrs. Trump initially cast as disingenuous or naive, this faux pas launched a torrent of more significant “what ifs,” zeroing in on the thoroughness of the nominee’s team members and its lack of judgment, vetting and focus. This begged questions that if this were its way of doing business, it could prove disastrous when dealing with matters of war and peace.

Much of the hoopla could have been avoided had Team Trump immediately “walked it back” and simply said, “We screwed up.” Mrs. Trump is so lovely she most likely would have received a pass, and the media would have moved on to its next victim.

At some point, just about every company inadvertently misstates facts, figures or recollections of what actually occurred — or even asserts the implausible. When there’s a slip of the lip, taking the low road and choosing to “deny, deny, deny” is more than a zero-sum strategy that most always leads to a bad ending when the truth is uncovered. The Wall Street adage, “Your first loss is your best loss” provides the best advice in situations of this type, not just investments.

Troubles beget troubles, and an effective way to minimize an embarrassing and sometimes disastrous backlash is to do the right thing, take the heat and simply fess up and move on.

How you come clean depends on whether the major miscommunication was in writing or just made verbally to a small group of people. If the error was published or disseminated to a large audience, respond in kind with a printed mea culpa. If it was a verbal gaff to a manageable small number, it may be more advisable to simply pick up the phone and confess your errant facts.

Today, in this 24/7 era of real-time news and communications, speed counts and setting the record straight must be measured in minutes and hours, not days or weeks.

If you don’t “walk it back,” ultimately you’re likely to have to walk the plank.


Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax and in 16-years, as CEO, grew the retailer to sales of $5 billion in 1,000 stores worldwide.
Today, as founder/CEO of Max-Ventures, his firm invests in and consults for retail businesses. Serving on a number of boards, Michael is a frequent national speaker, and author of the business books “The Benevolent Dictator” and his newest book ”Tips from the Top.”