Judy Smith is America’s No. 1 crisis management expert and the real-life inspiration for the hit TV series Scandal. She is currently advising Sony Pictures film chief Amy Pascal on how to recoup from the North Korean hacking scandal that has left Sony’s future in doubt. Recently she talked to Life Reimagined about making a pre-emptive strike on bad behavior.
Q: In your book Good Self, Bad Self, you’ve identified seven traits that can either sink you or rocket you to success. Is there one of those traits that tends to be the culprit most of the time? Ego, perhaps?
Ego is definitely a significant part of the problem, but also denial and fear. If someone refuses to recognize a problem, whether out of fear or something else, there is no helping them. Unfortunately, difficult situations do not just go away. That is why you have to take responsibility, apologize when necessary and take immediate steps to change.
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Q: Your book is a refreshingly practical, plainspoken guide to getting a grip on yourself. Your theory about balancing the seven traits makes perfect sense. So why is it so hard for some people to stay out of trouble?
Very often the traits that create success are the same traits that can lead us down the wrong path. In handling crises, I am often reminded of the fine line between a strong sense of self and self-importance. Once you go down the road of self-importance it is very hard to turn back unless something cataclysmic—like a crisis—pulls you back.
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Q: Your book Good Self, Bad Self can be seen as a cautionary tale about what can happen when we lack self-awareness. For those of us who have not yet fallen prey to our “bad self,” what can we do right now to make sure we don’t?
First, develop a strong sense of self and embrace the power that comes from the confidence and security in knowing exactly who you are. Second, remember that there are no shortcuts. If you are persistent in pursuit of your goals and stay focused, I truly believe everything will come together. It always takes longer than any of us want it to, but it will happen.
Q: We’ve shared with our audience your P.O.W.E.R. method to gain control of yourself, and we give an example from your book on how to apply it to ego. It seems that the method can only be applied in the aftermath of something gone wrong or during introspection. But what about in the moment? Is there a way to insulate yourself on the front end; i.e., before you go ballistic with your unbalanced anger at a meeting or other public venue?
Insulating yourself from problems or crises is nearly impossible because we all make mistakes. But what you can do is pre-emptively develop a plan to prepare for them. I encourage everyone to focus not just on post-crisis planning but pre-crisis planning. Thinking about issues before they happen removes the element of surprise and leaves you in the best place to defend yourself or your business should something go wrong.
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Q: In all of your years of helping people navigate their crises, what has been the most surprising or unanticipated thing you encountered?
That is a tough one, but I would have to say it is the capacity for forgiveness. If someone takes responsibility, apologizes sincerely and makes positive changes in their life, I have found that, generally speaking, people will give that person a second chance.
Main image: Vivian Zink/ABC via Getty Images
Article image: Courtesy of Judy Smith