What can you learn from the crying CEO who went viral?

Did you hear the story about the CEO who posted a picture of himself crying after laying-off two members of staff?

Braden Wallake’s LinkedIn post went viral and grabbed the attention of mainstream media.

And much of the reaction was pretty damning.

The CEO of Hypersocial, an Ohio-based company, took to social media to post his feelings about making two members of staff redundant.

He described the post as “the most vulnerable thing” he has shared and said: “Days like today, I wish I was a business owner that was only money driven and didn't care about who he hurt along the way.

“But I'm not.

“So, I just want people to see, that not every CEO out there is cold-hearted and doesn't care when he/she have to lay people off.”

The post included a teary-eyed selfie.

At the time of writing, it has received more than 48,000 reactions and over 9,000 comments. It has also been shared more than 940 times.

Some of the comments included “completely narcissistic and tone-deaf”, “self-serving”, “fake tears” and “virtue-signalling narcissist”.

The headlines the post created once it captured the attention of mainstream media also made for uncomfortable reading.

 

LinkedIn users mock ‘crying selfie’ CEO who fired workers New York Post

Crocodile tears: CEO slammed for posting crying selfie after laying off employees News 18

CEO posts crying selfie after he laid off employees - and it completely backfired Indy 100

CEO of marketing company that helps people ‘enhance’ their LinkedIn roasted for crying selfie Daily Mail

The ‘Crying CEO’ Says He Loves His Employees - Even Those He Laid Off Bloomberg

Despite the reaction, the post is still live.

But Mr Wallake did issue an update where he apologised for how the post “came across”.

He said: “Yes, I am the crying CEO. No, my intent was not to make it about me or victimize myself. I am sorry it came across that way.”

He also gave an interview where he said he would not take down the original post.

He said: “The reason (I haven’t deleted it) is because I am getting countless messages from other business owners saying, ‘love this, been there, worst feeling, right there with you.

“There is a lot of good that has come from this post, but I am trying to not sit there reading the negative (comments).”

So, what can you learn from this?

Well, let’s take at the social media aspect of it first. Don’t we want leaders to be more authentic, human and relatable on social media? Don’t we want them to talk about their feelings and emotions?

This is something that often comes up during our social media training.

The answer, of course, is that we do. We want authenticity, transparency and personality. And leaders showing their vulnerability is often well received on LinkedIn.

But the problem with this example is that Mr Wallake managed to make a post on redundancies about himself.

He may say otherwise, but by putting himself at the centre of the post, he positioned himself as the victim. Instead, he should have shown what he was doing to help those impacted find new jobs.

And then there is the photograph. Let’s say he had got the wording right. Do we need to see a photo of him crying?

Yes social media is visual, as we stress during our social media training.

But if anything, the selfie takes away from the authenticity he was trying to create  - there is more than a hint of ‘I better get these tears on camera for the socials’ about it.

Sean Ryan, a former Sunday Times associate editor giving a series of masterclasses for The Media Team Academy, said: “A leader who shows their authentic self has many advantages over a cold, clinical speaker.

“They often come over better to staff, stakeholders, media and the public by displaying some emotion in their comments and tone.

"But push that too far, and you don’t make the emotional connection you want with your audience. You make yourself look odd to people who will then be less likely to trust you.

“The ‘crying CEO’ miscalculated the impact his picture would have. He inadvertently created a story about himself that’s embarrassing for him and doesn’t help his company.

“The lesson here is: it’s good to show you care, but you might be well-advised to hold back the tears."

 

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The other key learning area is how leaders and companies communicate difficult decisions.

This is something we often look at during our crisis communication training.

How organisations manage difficult decisions like redundancies are often overlooked as a vulnerability.

But get it wrong, and they quickly find themselves in crisis media management mode, battling to protect their reputation.

A recent example we highlight during our crisis communication training courses comes from digital marketing company better.com.

Its boss Vishal Garg decided to sack 900 people in a brutal three-minute Zoom call just before Christmas.

He said: “I come to you with not great news. If you’re on this call, you are part of the unlucky group that is being laid off. Your employment here is terminated effective immediately.”

And again, there was an element of the boss making the decision presenting himself as the victim.

“This is the second time in my career I’m doing this, and I do not, do not want to do this. The last time I did it, I cried. This time I hope to be stronger.”

Another company that got it badly wrong was P&O. It dismissed 800 staff through a pre-recorded video message earlier this year.

The announcement felt cruel and uncaring. And it didn’t allow those impacted to ask questions about their plight.

But some get it right. A contrasting example we also use during our crisis communication training was provided by PR firm Edelman.

It announced the loss of 390 jobs, in June 2020, having promised workers their jobs were safe just three months earlier

He said: “Now, in June, we must part ways with talented and wonderful colleagues across the network. This is not a reflection on them, they are our partners and friends, and parting ways with them has been the most difficult decision in my 23 years leading this firm.”

And he added: “For those of you leaving, I am profoundly and deeply sorry. The thought of how this affects you and your loved ones has given me many sleepless nights.

“My gratitude to you is heartfelt, and you will be deeply missed by me, as well as your colleagues and friends.”

How brands and leaders navigate the communication around complex decisions is crucial.

The line between being cold and detached and being disingenuous can be narrow.

But with the right training and coaching, it shouldn’t end in tears.

Media First are media and communications training specialists with more than 35 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. 

Click here to discover more about our crisis communication training and social media training.

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