Ailing CEOs pose tough choices for communicators

If a high-profile leader in your company becomes ill, spread the word with candor and compassion, experts say.

Finding out your company’s CEO has cancer or another potentially life-threatening illness can have a big impact on how the business operates, and, as this recent Wall Street Journal article asserts, it forces some difficult decisions for board members.

It’s a pivotal issue for communicators as well. How much do you divulge to employees and the public? What do you tell employees who know the CEO personally or are worried about the state of the company? How do you quash rumors?

Foremost, be as honest as possible, says Drew Mendelson of Mendelson Communications.

“If you aren’t candid with your staff, the public’s going to ask, ‘Why should I believe them? They’re not even telling their own staff what’s going on.'”

While you give your employees the truth about what’s going on with the CEO, it’s also important to reassure them that the company will continue even as its most visible leader goes through difficulty, experts say.

Planning ahead

Don’t let a CEO’s illness sneak up on you, says Robert Holland of Holland Communications.

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