Monday, November 02, 2009


“Business is on probation; it is not off the hook,” said David Gergen, noted political commentator and Harvard professor. “The American psyche is very bruised…and if business takes us down again, there are people in Washington now who will really stick it to business.”

Gergen was the keynote speaker at the Critical Issues Forum program, “Aftershock: Rebuilding Trust & Confidence in 2010,” sponsored by the Council of Public Relations Firms on October 29th at the Yale Club. I have always admired Gergen and whether I agree with him or not, I find he usually has valid points to make. He did not disappoint.

“The first thing to do, “Gergen continued, “is to hold off the pitchforks, and thus it will take time before you can rebuild trust.” Gergen noted that literally a week or so before Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns collapsed, both issued statements saying, “We’re in great shape.” “We can’t have these kinds of untruths. We need transparency,” he insisted. He cited a leading public relations consultant who said that the problem was not bursting bubbles, but “sub-prime leadership.”

Recent business school graduates with whom Gergen has spoken feel that business needs to stand for more than making money for shareholders and that would require changing the culture. But leadership, he pointed out, is not a top-down activity, and cultures can be changed by managing up. Admittedly, people fall into their ways, and it can be challenging to get them to change. He cited both Ford and Nixon, both of whom he counseled, as examples of that.

Gergen professed concern with all the name calling and cynicism that pervades the social media and has now crept into the mainstream media. “This is degrading our political culture,” he said, “and I hope it changes. Things tend to move in cycles, but this trend makes it harder to have a conversation.“

(During an interview in September on “60 Minutes,” the President concurred with Gergen. When asked about the coarsening of public discourse, Obama said that one of the things he’s trying to figure out is “how can we make sure civility is interesting.”)

In the closing part of his address, Gergen stressed that quality leadership is the key to solving many problems for business and, indeed, for all organizations. “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality,” he said, quoting Max DePree. “The last is to say thank you.”

Technorati Tags: David Gergen , Critical Issues Forum, Council of Public Relations Firms, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, transparency, Max DePree, public relations, business, Makovsky


Blogger Unknown said...

Ken, great recap. We appreciate you sharing with your readers.

The entire event can now be viewed (in manageable segments) here: -- matt

Tuesday, November 10, 2009 4:23:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home