What Directors Can Learn About The Fall Of Papa John Schnatter

Board members could learn from the Papa John Schnatter's mistakes or others before him and prevent their own fall. Here's what they should know.

Papa John Schnatter

Papa John Schnatter rolled the dice, like other fallen and disgraced leaders, and eventually it caught up to him. Yet how many board directors currently living parallel, flawed lives right now will learn from Schnatter’s mistakes or others before him and prevent their own fall?

His productivity for the company now a distant memory because now he is seen as a liability to the organization for behavior that should never happen and only occurred because his thinking, attitude and belief systems were infected, He did not seek, either on his own or through coaching, to change them. Impulse control finally failed him.

As a leader, he put his company in a state of crisis management and his career in crisis and in need of reputation repair and management. Board directors could learn from his failures.

Reportedly, he spoke a well-known, too-common racial slur and made detailed descriptions of violence against minorities this Spring on a conference call with a media agency. To his credit, Schnatter’s apology showed some small level of self awareness, responsibility and remorse.

“News reports attributing the use of inappropriate and hurtful language to me during a media training session regarding race are true,” he said. “Regardless of the context, I apologize. Simply stated, racism has no place in our society.”

Not all apologies confess as much.

Yet, where in that statement is understanding of the harm, the negative impact and the remorse to those people as well as society? It’s missing. What does “regardless of context” mean? What Schnatter is inferring is that he has been misjudged and he is being punished for what he didn’t say. In another words, in today’s phrasing, “he doesn’t get it.”

Schnatter knows better. Not only can you not communicate like that in a business context, you shouldn’t, as a human being of character, have such thoughts, beliefs and attitudes. If you do, you are unfit as the face of a company.

“As a leader, he put his company in a state of crisis management and his career in crisis and in need of reputation repair and management. Board directors could learn from his failures.”

Like most apologies, corporate or otherwise famous, Schnatter’s was overly brief, stiff and spoke insufficiently to the width and depth of the negative behavior. Where Schnatter and other exposed leaders or famous people fail is that they carry around such thinking, destructive beliefs and dangerous, high-risk attitudes around for weeks, months and years, knowing full well they have them. They know that mindset is not congruent with healthy thinking, effective relationships nor sustained success. And yet they choose to live that status quo and do little-to-nothing about it.

They don’t have the will and commitment to self-correct. They don’t seek coaching or counseling (two distinctly different approaches) to rewire their thinking and thus, their decision making, choices, actions and subsequent outcomes.

This approach fails these very successful people, yet it doesn’t just hurt them. Organizations suffer financially and intangible ways. Customers or clients suffer. It’s a detonated bomb.

In a company memo, Papa John’s CEO Steve Ritchie took a step forward with words to begin internal healing, stating “We’ve got to own up and take the hit for our missteps and refocus on the constant pursuit of better that is the DNA of our brand.”

The organization wants to learn from its mistakes as well as stop the reputation misery, lost trust and financial bleeding. Schnatter, meanwhile, will have time for introspection, which, if used well, can be the catalyst for significant and necessary improvement as a leader and human being.

Schnatter’s assignments, if he accepts the responsibility, will be increased self awareness and social awareness (noticing how others feel about his behavior). In addition, working on improving in areas like regularly questioning his beliefs, understanding why he believed as he did, developing healthier interpretations and offering forgiveness for hurts that led him to dysfunctional attitudes.

He will also benefit from feeling and offering more empathy and thus becoming better at decision making, impulse control and relationship management. He should take steps and engage in some form of restorative justice and speak, write on his failures and lessons learned, be accessible and engaging to the media and Schnatter can repair and rebuild his reputation for future success.

Related: In A Crisis, Values Matter


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