By Tim Hayes

The new Chief Executive Officer of Wendy’s made the news a few days ago by doing something hardly anyone expects these days.

He told the truth.

Commenting on a string of disappointing quarterly earnings reports of late, CEO Emil Brolick did not take the easy road and lay the blame at the feet of the big, bad economy.  The Great Recession would not be the scapegoat.  Instead, Brolick told investment analysts that, “These are not DNA issues.  These are issues we caused, and any time you have self-inflicted wounds, you can correct self-inflicted wounds.”

How refreshing, particularly as the nation straps itself in for another hair-raising presidential campaign, to have the leader of a major corporation be so frank.  So spin-averse.  So confident in simply stating the obvious.

I once worked alongside a rather jaded PR guy whose favorite caustic comment on working with media was, “When all else fails, try the truth.”  He had been whipsawed and abused for so long by so many senior executives and corporate attorneys hell-bent on either saying nothing at all or, at the very least, saying the very least, that he had given up fighting those unwinnable internal battles and just did what he was told.  Usually, the simple truth had to wait until all other avenues had been exhausted.

Beyond ridiculous, I always thought.

Here are my iron-clad, time-tested, fool-proof rules for attaining and maintaining a healthy relationship with other people – no matter if they are your own employees, your customers, the media, regulators, anybody at all: Promote the good, admit the bad, and explain improvements.

That’s it.  Easier said than done, perhaps.  But that’s all there is to it.  As Wendy’s CEO demonstrated on his call with the analysts.

“These are not DNA issues.”  Brolick is defending the basic business model that turned Wendy’s from a Dublin, Ohio, hamburger stand into a major restaurant brand.  He is promoting the good.

“These are issues we caused…”  Here, he is admitting the bad, acknowledging with clarity and honesty that the company had lost share because it had lost touch with its customers, their tastes, their insistence on cleanliness and quality.  He is taking a big sock on the chin, and a wholly deserved one.  And he earned a higher level of respect for it.

“…and any time you have self-inflicted wounds, you can correct self-inflicted wounds.”  Brolick finishes the thought by committing his company to turning around the shortfalls that have led to its lackluster results.  He is beginning to explain improvements in the works to bring Wendy’s back.

In the span of two sentences, a CEO applies my never-been-known-to-fail formula.  It starts with having the gumption, integrity, and courage to tell the truth.  That shouldn’t come as such a surprise, but unfortunately it does these days.  If more leaders would try the truth first, the worlds of business, politics, and society would be so much more civil, respectful, and functional.

Copyright 2012 Transverse Park Productions, LLC