The Mayor of Toronto has made a lot of headlines since taking office, and the volume and reach of these has become staggering over the past few weeks. Since the police announced that they have the video of Rob Ford smoking from what appears to be a crack pipe, and the mayor himself admitting to smoking crack cocaine, the eyes of the world have been on Toronto city hall.

Workopolis polled our users last week to see if the daily breaking news stories were having an impact on workplace productivity, and 64% of people said yes, because “nobody is talking about anything else.”

Last year, when the Mayor was temporarily removed from office, we wrote an article called Career lessons from Rob Ford, about how it was his attitude that was causing his career setbacks rather than any particular action.

Well, it’s time for a sequel. The current situation offers a new crop of career lessons that we can take away from the Mayor’s public struggles. This time it’s looking more like actual actions are the problem. But that problem is made worse by how he handles the situation when issues come to light.

How you phrase things matters

When asked if he smoked crack, Rob Ford replied, that yes he had, “probably in one of my drunken stupors.” #inoneofmydrunkenstupors was trending on Twitter for several days after that. The line was repeated on every news broadcast and comedy show (and it’s not a good sign when a politician gets quoted on both at the same time).

The choice of words compounded the issue. Now he was saying that not only does he smoke crack, but that he also has (multiple) ‘drunken stupors’ where he wanders around making bad decisions.

In the workplace, be careful how you say things. Taking greater care of how a message is delivered can have a huge effect on how others react to it.

Taking responsibility for mistakes is good

Far better would it have been for the Mayor to say something like, “Yes, I have tried crack cocaine. It was on a night when I had too much to drink, and that led to my making a very poor choice that I deeply regret. I apologize to anyone who is let down by this, and I have entered into an alcohol addiction program to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.”

With that choice of words he would not only owned up to the mistake, but he would also have apologized, and detailed an action plan for ensuring that it would not be repeated. And that is what people want to hear.

Learn from the mistake, and fix the problem

Everyone makes mistakes at work. They don’t have to be career-ending. The key is to learn from them, be up front in taking responsibility for the things we get wrong, and implementing changes to ensure that the same mistakes aren’t made twice.

That kind of forthright honesty actually builds trust in the workplace. Obfuscations, denials and half-truths just tend to spiral out of control and end up making things worse.


Peter Harris
Peter Harris on Twitter