“Here I Come to Save the Day”: The Mighty Mouse Principle

When I was young, there was a cartoon mouse with super powers; a cross between Superman and Speedy Gonzalez is how I always pictured the character.  He went by the name of Mighty Mouse and during each episode, he always sang the line, “Here I come to save the day!”  I didn’t think much of it – let’s face it, I was a very young tyke at the time – but I’ve found from speaking with some colleagues recently that many managers try to emulate Mighty Mouse during a disaster or any other incident. 

            The person who knows the least about BCM and the validated plans and processes put in place by an organization, suddenly believes he is well versed in Crisis Management and takes control of a situation.  Often this is like the project team member who comes to a meeting with lots of questions and concerns and stirs up all sorts of trouble, then gets up and walks out of the room feeling as though they’ve contributed to the initiative, when all they’ve has done is cause a heck of allot of unnecessary problems.  Some of the items he raises may be valid though the majority won’t be because he hasn’t been paying attention to any other activity related to a project; not reading minutes or issue logs, not attending meetings he was asked to participate in.  The same often occurs during a disaster. This is the ‘Mighty Mouse Principle’.

            In some cases an organization may be lucky enough to have an individual who is able to stand up and take charge of a situation and lead an organization through challenging times; think Michael McCain of Maple Leaf Foods, Winston Churchill and James Burke (past CEO of Johnson & Johnson).  On the other side of the coin, you have those who don’t, or can’t, take charge or responsibility, and have difficulties leading an organization through tough times; think Tetsuro Ishikawa (Snow Brand Milk Products in Japan) or a Lawrence Rawl (Exxon during the Valdez disaster).

            In any case the Mighty Mouse Principle states that a leader is not normally – either intentionally or unintentionally –involved with the BCM program or the BCM practitioner and simply takes charge based on their position title within the organization.  In many situations, the person in charge is not the person you see in the media answering questions, though they may have many answers and be high up in the company.  Behind the scenes are the unseen individuals.  The ones who are performing the activities to set things to right, control the situation from escalating, managing impacted parties whether they be internal, external or a variation of both or they are the ones who are writing the scripts for the company CEO to follow as she stands in front of query minded journalists. 

            No one individual controls an incident or can provide all the answers, but a single individual can put a human face on the situation and provide the tone for how the disaster will be managed.  These great leaders stand in front of cameras and offer assurances, apologies, and in some cases grieve with those who have been harmed or somehow impacted by the situation.  

     The Mighty Mouse leader is the one who stands and points the finger of blame at others and doesn’t put a human face on the situation.  They’re here to “save the day” but they’re actually just trying to save their…well, you know.   Instead there is the tendency to downplay the severity of the impact, confuse the aspects and details of the situation and place a focus a financial impacts resulting from the disaster.  There is the belief that they are saving the day by focusing on the financial impacts while choosing to ignore the human aspects. 

     This is because they aren’t familiar with what’s critical in a disaster and what needs to be concentrated on.  It’s one thing to have teams and individuals in the background working on keeping the company financially sustainable and operating, yet the public needs to see real action and care for the human side of the tragedy.  They want someone to take responsibility and control the situation – even if it’s a perceived control – it is still necessary to calm the worries of those impacted. 

      The Mighty Mouse Principle says that the leader who has no training or understanding of Business Continuity Management, will increase people’s worries, anxieties and fears, both towards those who are looking at the situation from the outside, the public, and for those who are actively trying to resolve the situation.  Priorities will change depending on questions posed by the public and media and nothing is being performed in unison, meaning the situation isn’t being managed effectively; it’s getting worse. 

     There is a possibility that some untrained leaders will try to take control of a situation because they don’t want to appear as though they are weak or that they don’t have formal training or knowledge in crisis management or disaster leadership.  If employees and the public see that their leader is essentially, hiding in the boardroom from media and general enquiries, the leader is perceived as weak.  No president, CEO or Vice President wants to be seen as weak, so instead of allowing a more thoroughly trained and knowledgeable individual to take charge – either behind the scenes or in front of the cameras – they will take control of the incident and more often than not, cause more confusion and problems.  Add these new issues caused by the senior executive with those already known from the incident itself, and an organization is sure to experience more trauma than it originally experienced with the disaster itself.

     When this happens, internal employees begin to question their leadership and this has caused individuals to speak to the media and state that the company doesn’t know what it is doing.  They will begin to provide insight on some ‘dirty secrets’ the organization might have simply because they have lost faith in the organization and don’t’ want to go down with the ship.  If the leader is versed in BCM and can speak to the media with conviction and dedication to resolving the situation and at the same time provide employees direction on what the company is going to do based on what is mission critical to its vision and mission, then the organization has a much better chance of weathering the storm.  The last person you want to help you in a disaster, is the Mighty Mouse leader – he or she, won’t be able to “save the day”.

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The new book by StoneRoad founder, A.Alex Fullick, MBCI, CBCP, CBRA, ITILv3, “Heads in the Sand: What Stops Corporations From Seeing Business Continuity as a Social Responsibility.”  Available at www.stone-road.com **

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4 thoughts on ““Here I Come to Save the Day”: The Mighty Mouse Principle

  1. Which proves the point that _ALL_ personnel need to be involved with business continuity to know their roles (which may be far different than their “business as usual” role). Media interface must be included in the plan. In the same vein, the BCM practitioner may not be the best person to command the response effort; some are excellent PLANNERS and less than excellent crisis managers (some go to pieces, others try to do it all and others simply freeze).

  2. Interesting post Alex, I also watched Mighty Mouse growing up – he always managed to save the day. Like all good heroes at some point he has a sidekick. The sidekick doesn’t have super powers but can assist at times.

    I would offer the view that the BC professional, if there is one in the organisation, can help in this regard. I don’t interchange the terms practitioner and professional.

    The big boss taking over in a crisis should be expected, not a surprise. That is what they are paid for in most cases. Surely the sidekick should expect the super hero to jump in. I am sure that Alfred always had Batman’s costume ready to go, never out at the cleaners when a problem arose.

    I would expect a BC/CM professional would be asking the Executive leadership what role they will play in a crisis and working around that. If we think they may stumble – then a realistic exercise (where they stumble) would be be helpful.

    Conversely the practitioner will just follow the documented process, which will make the BC/CM plans irrelevant to Executive management.

    I would go further and suggest that the core Crisis Management ‘centre of excellence’ in many organisations may not be seen to be in BC, but more likely to be in Corporate Communications. These folks are probably dealing with reputation and issues management on a regular basis. They are also more likely to be dealing with C-level management already on these aspects.

    It may well be that BC needs to use these folks as a partner in over the overall approach to CM.

    I think your point about the need for a public and a private face of leadership is the key. The same person is unlikely to have the time to be the public face and the internal recovery leader. If Executive (C level) management have not rehearsed who will take what role – and it may vary based on the situation they face – then we can have real problems.

    This is one of those situations where I think the generally practiced approach to BCM can often fail the organisation.

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