A great deal of the consulting I do is crisis consulting, and so I was fascinated by the confused scene at the end of the 2017 Oscars. What intrigues me is how those embarrassing moments contain some of the lessons essential to leading in a crisis. I want to list some of them for you now.

First, a summary. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were tasked with presenting the Best Picture honor. When Beatty opened the envelope, he realized he had been given the wrong card. It was the card for Best Actress, which had already been awarded to Emma Stone. What was Beatty to do? He fumbled around and finally Dunaway took the card, saw Emma Stone’s name and the name of the movie she won for, LaLa Land, and so she announced that LaLa Land had won Best Picture. It wasn’t true. The directors, producers, and stars for that film made it to the stage when it was discovered that Moonlighthad in fact won. There was much confusion. Finally, LaLa Land producer Jason Horowitz stepped to the microphone, told the world there had been a mistake, assured everyone that this was not a joke, and called the Moonlight team to the stage.

Some principles:

  1. Never be afraid to call “Time Out.” Warren Beatty can certainly be forgiven for not thinking of it, but if he had seen the erroneous card and explained to the audience that he needed a moment to confer off stage, he could have rescued the situation. In a crisis, stopping for a moment to make wise decisions is always valid.
  2. Whoever is in charge should take charge. The enemy in a crisis is confusion and bedlam, just like we saw on stage at the end of the Oscars. Someone was already in charge. That person either had a communication device or had an aid who did. They needed to quickly take charge and issue orders. Instead, too much time went by, people were milling about looking ridiculous, and Jimmy Kimmel was making it all worse with his joking. In a crisis, the boss needs to act like it—quickly.
  3. Someone will fill the vacuum. In a crisis, someone is going to fill the leadership vacuum. At the Oscars, it was LaLa Land producer Jason Horowitz. He told the crowd there had been a mistake, grabbed the right card from Beatty to show the cameras, and called the Moonlight people to the stage. None of this was his job, but he saved the moment. Yet he was also angry and impatient. He did well, but he didn’t model what the Oscars would have wanted. Their fault. They didn’t put a leader on the stage. If you don’t lead in a crisis, someone will step in. And you may not like it.
  4. Narrate, Narrate, Narrate. Warren Beatty did his best to save the day by telling the crowd he had the wrong card. This settled people. The lesson is, always narrate in a crisis. Tell people what is going on. Remember what it is like when you are on a plane, it isn’t taking off, and no one is explaining why. It is a miserable experience for everyone. Narrate. Tell people what is going on. Then, if they work for you, tell them how they can help. And keep narrating. Ignorance and suspicion are your enemy.

That’s it. The Oscars will be fine. Moonlight is honored. And you will be a better leader if you take these principles of crisis leadership to heart.

Have a good weekend!


St. Patrick’s Day is coming up, and what better way to celebrate the Irish than with The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World. Order your copy today, and be inspired in your work and business.