It was the perfect springtime day and I had a weekend getaway planned with the family. All I had to do before heading to the resort hotel was to drop in to the doctor’s office to get the results of a biopsy I recently had. I was told that the test was mostly just a precaution so I wasn’t particularly worried. I should have been. The biopsy came back positive for prostate cancer.
After the initial shock and resulting conversations that I had with my close family (on that weekend getaway), I started to think of how I was going to handle this within my company. As the Founder and senior executive of an international referral marketing organization (BNI), I have a fair amount of public recognition within my area of expertise, and I am the public figure for the company. After I wrapped my head around the diagnosis, many questions ran through my mind relating to its impact on my company:
- Should I try to keep the diagnosis secret?
- Do I only tell key people?
- Would I still be able to run the company?
- Do I need to hire someone to take on my role?
- What will the competition do during this time?
- Will my illness hurt the bottom line of the organization?
To me, the answer to the first question would help determine the direction I would take with the other questions. So, I started with the question of keeping it secret. Let me say that this is a very personal decision. Everyone’s experience of a disease like this is different and I can completely respect if someone chooses to tell virtually no one. I, however, did not choose that direction. BNI is a business networking, “word-of-mouth” organization. The idea of keeping that kind of secret in an organization like ours seemed impossible to me. So rather than try to keep it secret, I chose to “go public” so that I could help guide the message. You’ll note that I don’t say “control” the message because I can tell you from first-hand experience you cannot control the message. However, I do believe you can guide and influence the message greatly.
Having decided to go public – I literally went public. But I did it with a communication plan in place. An important part of that plan was the actual message I wanted to communicate. I decided what I was going to do for my treatment and why. Then, I created a communication hierarchy of whom I was going to tell and when. Below is the communication hierarchy I used for the dissemination of information. All of these were done within a three-day period:
1. Extended family
2. Close personal friends
3. Key management of the company
4. Employees at the Headquarters office
5. Franchisees world-wide
6. Global employees and independent contractors
7. Our clients
8. The public through my blog and social media
Since I decided for transparency about my diagnosis I chose not to hire someone to take on my responsibilities. Instead, I asked for help from those people who worked for me directly and indirectly. I asked if my close team would step up and fill in as needed for me and I asked if my extended team (such as franchisees) would give me grace and allow me the time I needed to be able do what I had to do by working with my team on many issues. They did so without hesitation.
As for competition, that was easy. I have always believed that we shouldn’t worry about what our competition is doing (know what they are doing but don’t obsess over it) and instead, focus on improving our business every day. If we continued to that with the team that was in place, we would not have to obsess over the competition and we didn’t.
That left the question of the bottom line. Before I answer that, let me discuss my mindset a little further. I chose transparency as the approach to my diagnosis. Transparency to the point that I posted multiple blogs on my blog site talking very specifically about what approach I was pursuing and how I was doing every few months. I knew that if I didn’t update people, they would fill in the blanks themselves and it may or may not be accurate. So, I wanted to put the message out there myself – whether it was good or whether it was bad. I set sail for that approach not knowing how it would end.
I’m pleased to say that I am fully and completely in remission today and that I did it without surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. What’s also important is that my organization was able to follow my journey first-hand. They did not have to guess or wonder what I was doing. I put it all out there publicly.
So, how did the company do during this period? Well, since my diagnosis about two-and-a-half years ago, the company has grown by 21 percent. I think that happened because I had good people in place who were willing to step up when the boss was down. If I had to do it all over again – I’d do it exactly the same way.
Related: 7 Ways Leaders Can Achieve Big Wins