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What to do when a crisis hits hard

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When (a) you can’t lead, or (b) there’s nobody else to blame, it’s time for you to go.

Case in point: After the Cartoon Network ran ads that prompted a bomb scare in Boston this past winter, the TV network’s vice president resigned. He did it to stop the horrible publicity disrupting his operations.

“The gods demand a sacrifice,” says Richard Levick, a crisis consultant. “The whole reason companies make a sacrifice is to make a story go away. If you drag it out, the resignation becomes part of an ongoing story instead of ending it. You need to move quickly.”

Similarly, if a leader can’t lead anymore, that’s it. “When a person feels he or she won’t be effective in the role anymore, that’s the time to fall on your sword,” says Batia Wiesenfeld, a business professor at New York University. Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Nissan and Renault, started the clock himself by promising to leave if the car companies weren’t profitable again in two years.

Tip: Don’t shoot the messenger. Consultant Jonathan Bernstein once discovered that the community relations problems plaguing a California real estate firm were being caused by the CEO, and that no development plans would be approved unless the chief stepped aside. When he revealed this unpleasant fact, the company fired Bernstein.

—Adapted from “Taking the Plunge,” Tara Weiss, Forbes.com.

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