Corporate terror of being human is still a thing?

brian peterson growth mistakes Mar 26, 2021
Be Human

Humans make mistakes. Companies are composed of humans. So companies make mistakes.

Nobody disagrees with this logic. But why do companies rarely admit their mistakes, when as kids our parents taught us it’s better to admit our mistakes, make amends, and move on?

Why would companies pass up a perfect opportunity to leverage their mistakes by telling the truth, showing integrity, collectively learning the lessons, and building their reputation and trust by doing it?

Don’t expect me to answer that question here, because after decades of leading communications in a variety of organizations, I am mystified why so many C-suite leaders still can’t overcome their terror of transparency and truth telling.

I’ve heard all the reasons for hiding or spinning the truth: We might invite a lawsuit. We open ourselves up to more criticism. It might blow the mistake out of proportion. Our customers or donors will not forgive us and will abandon us for a more perfect competitor.

Or it could simply be a problem of large C-suite egos and the fear of personal embarrassment.

Decades ago, before social media and the millions of new digital channels, it was plausible that corporate errors could be effectively covered up. But we know those days are over, as we all now have the power to blow the whistle and be heard by a global audience. People may wait to blow the whistle and expose mistakes when they leave a company disgruntled. Then it goes viral when it’s least expected. And then comes the corporate shaming, shunning, cancelling and sometimes prosecuting--with a much longer and steeper road to recovery.

What should really concern the C-suite, then, is the polar opposite; they should be terrified of hidden mistakes being exposed.

"Hidden mistakes” is fast becoming an oxymoron.

New research in the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer shows that public trust of media and government has taken a dive, exacerbated by later stages of the pandemic. No surprise there. But what’s really interesting in this research is that trust of businesses and CEOs has not suffered as much, and it is the only institution that is now seen as both competent and ethical. More than before, people are looking to their employers and CEOs to set a standard for integrity, cut through the misinformation and show leadership on larger existential problems facing our communities and our planet.

Trust is easier to obtain at the local level, and within the workplace. The universe of responsibility on the business sector is fast expanding, not just for large corporations, but also for small and medium businesses. The ones with a better chance for business growth--the winners--will be driven by their big hearts, their sense of larger purpose, their human integrity and courageous truth-telling.

Notice that corporate perfection is not on the list.

(Note: There are other ways that businesses can be known and loved for being human, and we will explore those ways in future blogs.)


Brian Peterson has 20 years of experience as a corporate communications leader and strategist. He recently launched Greater Life Communications to empower big-hearted, people-friendly organizations to create a better world for all. Learn more at

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