Saturday, July 7, 2012

Enduring Public Humiliation

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Last week we all witnessed the public disgrace that Ann Curry experienced as a result of her dismissal as the co-host of the Today Show.  Her release was featured on every major news and entertainment media outlet and was most likely one of the worst professional experiences she has ever endured.  As in any corporate change of leadership witnesses had a myriad of opinions which they expressed freely and openly.  I watched friends and supporters offer kind words and reminisce on the positive aspects of her career and I witnessed those who were happy to see her go gloat and take cheap shots at her personally and professionally.

As a woman and a professional I think there is value in examining what happened that day and considering alternatives to both behaviors and thought patterns exhibited as a result of this change.

Corporations Have a Responsibility to Handle Changes Professionally

Let's be honest; business is business.  Business decisions are made with profitability and performance in mind.  Not every employee fits every role and sometimes change is necessary - this is entirely understandable.  Yet corporate change management should be administered in ways that both edify the previous regime as well as promote the new vision.  Change should be clearly communicated and should not be done impulsively, overnight, or without clear communication of the entire change process to all employees.  Change that happens in contrast to these guidelines is painful and disturbing for everyone involved.

The Professional Response to Change

Change is hard.  Period.  There are many emotions that accompany change and when it is sudden it can be very difficult to see the "forest for the trees" as they say.   In the case of Ann's speech to the public that she would be leaving I was painfully aware of this process unfolding in front of the world. 

"Ann Curry confirmed two things on the "Today” show Thursday that most of the world had already figured out: She's leaving and she doesn't like it.  Choking back tears and fighting to maintain her composure, Curry said, 'This is not the way I expected to leave' the show where she has worked for 15 years.  'For those of you who saw me as a groundbreaker, I'm sorry I couldn't carry the ball over the finish line,' said Curry."

 There are a couple of things revealed in her speech and composure that I'm sure if she had more time to process the situation would not have played out in front of the entire nation.

  1. She was being asked to leave and she didn't like it. 
  2. She couldn't maintain her composure speaking about it.
  3. She saw herself as failing herself and others
First of all these are natural emotions, especially when someone is asked to leave rather than making the choice themselves.  However, if she was unable to speak about it she probably shouldn't have been asked/allowed to do so on the telecast.  Again, this is the responsibility of the organization and fellow leaders take note:  change can be handled professionally and positively but it must be managed appropriately from the start.

Second, feelings of failure accompany all unwanted and unexpected change.  This is sentiment and the emotional responses to it are experienced by males and females alike.  However, it is important to note that this emotional response is just that; an emotion not a fact.  Ann will eventually realize that she gave her best to this role and is likely to be proud of herself for her dedication and the connections she made with others as a result of that position.  We as individuals need to step back and assess personal change such as this in the same way.  As leaders who implement change we should also focus on the facts and downplay emotional expressions as we lead change for our organizations.  Again, change management is management and should be led, not allowed to evolve on its own.  If we are leading change we are extolling the virtues of the past while we promote the even better vision of the future, thus preventing an environment for bitterness and regret to develop.

Third, pay no attention to the haters.  People will always have an opinion and it's up to us to determine whether or not that opinion is of value.  Pay no attention to words intended to degrade, defame or insult and dismiss those ideas immediately and without consideration.  This stuff isn't worth your time to consider it or respond to it.

 Final Word to My Sisters

Women are relatively new to high profile leadership roles and as so can be somewhat inexperienced at handling public dismissal or humiliation.  Change management should be a topic of study for women in leadership roles while the waters are calm to ensure a positive response to both personal and professional changes.   We will not always be able to control the circumstances that bring about change, but a solid understanding of change processes will allow us to express the highest level of professionalism in response to whatever situations we find ourselves in.  This affords us the greatest opportunity of successfully navigating difficult public situations.


 It's Your Turn:

Regardless of your opinion on whether or not Ann Curry should have remained as a co-host on the Today Show what observations did you make regarding her public address?  Did you reflect on this situation and did you learn any lessons from that reflection?


  1. I didn't actually see her public address, but after reading your post and the link you shared, I have no problem with her breaking down. Emotions are real, and she was obviously emotional (as I would have been)! I like seeing real people. It would have been weird if she didn't cry! TV has got to be a tough business, but on a professional level, business is business, and the network needs to do what it needs to do to get better ratings--which after all, is what TV is all about! Visiting from SITS! Thanks for sharing1

  2. I love Ann Curry and felt so bad for her. I wish she had been able to stay on. Bigger and better things will come her way because she seems to be a genuine good person. Stacie

  3. I don't know Ann Curry but I personally hate to see this kind of thing happening to someone so publicly and without any real human sympathy or empathy.

    Visiting via the Saturday Sharefest :)


  4. I feel bad for Ann - but I think under the circumstances, she handled things the best she could. I hope she gets picked up somewhere else. She seems like a really genuine person.

  5. I appreciate when we have compassion and caring for such circumstances. It reminds us, too, that celebrities are normal people, too. And corporations are corporations (ra ra entrepreneurialism!)

    I am glad I found you via the SITS forums today! I am about tl "LIKE!" you on facebook, so I'll see you over there, too!

  6. Thanks for the comment love! :)

    Anything in hind sight you think she or you may do differently if you were in her shoes?

  7. If I hadn't bumped into your article this morning, I would have no clue something happened to Ann Curry, I would just observe sometime down the line that I haven't seen her for a while.

    It all depends on how she's let go, it seems clearly she wasn't prepared for it as indicated in this post. It's not usually the responsibility of the company to safeguard your emotional interests. So that's unfortunate. Could the situation been handled differently so as not leave her in a bad emotional state, maybe. Would they do it? Maybe not.

    Reinforces the fact of non-complacency. No one should just be comfortable just working for someone else. We should strive to better ourselves and stand on our own two feet. Then we are not completely subject to a situation like Ann's


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