Rob Ford is a Great Teacher. Here’s Why.

Let’s begin with a question: would Rob Ford have a better public image if he had accepted the substance abuse allegations in 2013?

One could easily argue that the public perception of Ford would be negative either way. During his mayoral campaign in 1999, Ford was hit with a DUI and a marijuana possession charge. He denied both claims at first, though he admitted to the truth later on. There was another blunder in April of 2006, when Ford attended

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a Leafs hockey game while intoxicated. Two security guards escorted him out of the arena. When Ford denied attending the game, a media storm ensued. As has been the case so often with Rob Ford, he admitted to his mistake shortly thereafter.

Then, of course, there’s the scandal we’re all familiar with…

We can learn quite a bit from observing the Rob Ford saga, especially when it comes to personal branding. The Toronto mayor is a perfect example of what not to do. Whether you work in the public or private sector, you can learn a few lessons from Ford’s actions over the past year and half. The ones that come to mind are acceptance, forgiveness, and think before you act.


Accept Your Faults. Then try asking for forgiveness

“Hey Mom, I have something to tell you….”

“Hey boss, remember the client I spoke to you about last week? Well, something happened..”

“Dear customer, we made a big mistake with your order…”

From the Government of Canada to medium-sized companies to our friends and family members, everyone messes up. But some mistakes are a lot more memorable than others. Do you remember the Tesco horse meat scandal in 2013, when traces of horse meat were found in the company’s beef products? What about the Dominos YouTube scandal in 2009, when employees posted videos of themselves doing nasty things to the food they were planning to serve customers? Do you recall the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico back in 2006? That event happened eight years ago. Time can heal many wounds, but some things are difficult to forget.

The correct response in these types of situations is to own up to your mistakes, take full responsibility, and seek forgiveness from any parties that may have been harmed. Refusing to acknowledge your errors may lead to disaster. Unfortunately, we don’t need to look very far to find examples of individuals and organizations denying responsibility for their actions (at least in the beginning). Mr. Ford is a notable example.

I won’t bore you with the details of Ford’s scandal, but I’ll quickly refresh your memory. As you probably know, Ford received international media attention when he denied allegations of substance abuse in 2013. He later admitted to smoking crack. Despite numerous calls for his resignation, Ford retained his position as mayor of Toronto. For those interested in taking a trip down memory lane, the Toronto Star summarizes the history of the scandal pretty well.

Stop. Think. Think some more. Then act.

Before starting a blog post, I always take time to consider the main point I want to make. When the post is fully typed up, I will revise, tweak, and review it before passing it on to the editor on our team. Unfortunately, in today’s business landscape, such careful planning is not a given. The advent of technology platforms has allowed us to share whatever is on our minds with the rest of the world. But this freedom can have terrible consequences. Before speaking, people ought to think of those who have been harmed by unfiltered thoughts posted on the internet. Too often we forget the meaning of this age-old saying:

“Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.” ~ Plato

Here are two important points to consider:

(1) Think about the affect your next blog post, Facebook update, tweet, press release, or public statement will have on the public’s perception of your brand. Will your words and actions have a positive or negative impact on your organization? If you believe the outcome will be positive, then by all means, take action. If, on the other hand, you believe the repercussions might be negative, then you may want to reconsider your initial plan.

(2) It’s important to have a plan in place in case things go awry. You need stay on top of what the media is saying about you or your organization. This is part of the reason we have built a tool to help you monitor your online presence.

If Cleveland can forgive LeBron, can Toronto do the same with Ford?

The answer will vary depending on who you ask. Many Torontonians have vehemently expressed their disapproval about the mayor on television, the web, and social media. On the other hand, some citizens are willing to forget Ford’s troubles and offer him another chance, just as residents of Cleveland have all but forgotten about LeBron James leaving their city to play for the Miami Heat in 2010.

Nobody is safe in the age of the internet; one small slip up, and a public figure can make national headlines the following morning. Heck, Rob Ford has messed up so many times I’ve lost count. The important thing is to own up to your mistakes and learn from them. Imagine how Ford’s situation might have turned out if he had admitted to smoking crack as soon as the allegations began to surface.

It’s best to take a proactive approach in all of your endeavours. Think carefully about your actions, own up to your mistakes when they harm others, and seek to rectify any problem you have caused before they get out of hand.

Featured image courtesy of Danielle Scott