University of Maryland junior Rebecca Martinson was fuming when she sat down at her computer.
President of the local chapter of the Delta Gamma sorority, Martinson had observed and heard reports of her sisters failing to live up to their Greek Week responsibilities. As a result, the reputation of the sorority and its standing with the university’s fraternities was in a precarious position.
Martinson’s profanity laced diatribe was leaked to the media, spread and shared via social media and quickly branded the “most deranged sorority Email you will ever read.” Martinson resigned from her post in shame a few days later.
Retailer Abercrombie and Fitch recently came clean on its policy of marketing its clothing solely to thin and attractive teenagers. CEO Mike Jeffries explained that “good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.”
The outcry was deafening and resulted in a precipitous drop in the company’s brand reputation. A quick backpedal ensued with a company-issued apology.
While the tone and delivery by Martinson and Jeffries was clearly flawed, their message was candid, straight-forward and 100 percent accurate.
I’m a former fraternity member at the University of Maryland and sororities deemed anti-social are quickly blackballed from events. And, in the case of Jeffries, a fashion retailer is in the business of selling a beautiful image.
It is a bitter pill, yet in many instances that image precludes people outside a specific look. The movie the Devil Wears Prada captured that philosophy.
These instances leave me with a few take-aways:
Leadership and management is not a popularity contest. There are times you have to communicate a message that an audience does not want to hear. The sorority girls needed to get their act together. Plus-sized teenagers should find somewhere else to shop.
Style of delivery is just as important as content. Give it to your audience straight. Be honest and credible. However, embrace sincerity and empathy to ensure people focus on the message.