brown shed under mountain

When the Bones are Good

Written by Karen Swim

It's Ethics month and a good time to review the public relations code of ethics. and support your clients to ensure that they have a strong ethical foundation.

The world is in the midst of a global pandemic and with my agency operating on overdrive, I am finding strength in a country music song. Through long days, and tough decisions, I sing, “the house don’t fall when the bones are good,”lyrics from “The Bones,” by Maren Morris.  It has become a mantra that has sustained me and been my north star. When pelted by the storms around me, I am reminded that the windows may rattle but my house will stand, because my bones are good. 

It is not surprising that it is this particular song that has become the background music to my life. I sing it softly to my dog at night as I watch her curl into a ball and slowly drift away to doggy dream land. I have used it countless times in presentations as the pop culture punctuation to the importance of having a strong organizational foundation. While Morris wrote it as a love song, for me, it is an anthem of strong leadership. 

Cracks and Crisis

When you build a house on a weak foundation, you will have cracks in your walls, uneven floors, doors that do not close and your house may sink. In companies, a weak foundation may manifest as employee dissatisfaction, inconsistent quality, and churn of people and customers. As Gordon B. Hinckley said, “you can’t build a great building on a weak foundation. You must have a solid foundation if you’re going to have a strong superstructure.”

There is nothing like a crisis to reveal the strength (or weakness) of a foundation. Crisis shines a light in the darkest corners of your organization and reveals if your structure will go the distance or is in need of repair. A crisis is also the ultimate test of a leader’s skills and the greatest opportunity for growth. 

Build Strong to Stay Strong

The global pandemic of 2020 has tested our world in ways never imagined. Leaders without a strong foundation have tripped over the uneven floors in their organizations. Crisis demands strength and stability, but if you have a weak foundation, you will be too busy trying to keep the building from crumbling down to provide it. 

No one understands the critical need for good bones more than public relations professionals. Our roles encompass more than communications, we are the structural engineers that test the foundation and spot the cracks. We have a fundamental responsibility to protect those we serve, and act in their best interest. This often results in guiding organizations to make repairs before adding another level. 

When building the foundation of a house, you first build a wooden frame. The concrete is poured into the frame and once it hardens, you can remove the frame and the concrete will stand on its own. In business, plans are the frame. Plans show you where to pour and give you a preview of the finished product.

In public relations, every project or campaign is supported by a well researched, strategic plan. Each new building adheres to the code of the organization and maintains a consistent identity. Plans ensure that concrete has a direction and will not be misshapen. 

Concrete and Core Values

The concrete is the mission, vision and values of the organization. But without actions, these words are merely paste. Actions are the water that hardens it into concrete. To build a strong foundation, live your mission, vision and values in every corner of your building from the boardroom to the basement. 

Before concrete hardens, you add metal reinforcements. Your people are your metal. Strong leaders not only hire great people but empower them to do their job. You give them room to innovate and permission to fail. You develop them and provide opportunities for growth even if that means that their next move may be out of the building.

Maintenance is Essential

As important as building from a strong starting position is investing to maintain the integrity of your structure. You need to reinforce daily the mission and ensure every member of your organization knows their role in fulfilling it. Invest in your people. This means more than training, mentoring and benefits but demonstrating that you value them as a person and employee. 

As a leader, it is also critical to nurture your strengths and overcome your weaknesses through training or tapping into the strengths of your team. You cannot build strong if you are weak. Invest in your personal and professional growth. Lamont G. Jones, CEO and Managing Partner of Impact Health, advises leaders to  understand their strengths and weaknesses. In his book, “32 Lessons of Leadership.” he says, “You can’t do everything, and you should be at peace with that. Where others excel, that may be to your benefit; and where you excel, that’s where others will surely benefit from your life.”

Tested by Crisis

In the current crisis, many organizations had windows shattered or entire buildings destroyed, but the foundations remained intact. Structures can take a hit, even those that are well built, but a weak foundation jeopardizes everything. 

As the world grapples with uncertainty and the wreckage of Covid-19, I sing the lyrics to country music songs, and seek ways to strengthen my own leadership. I lean into my reinforcements and ask for help when needed. As I help clients navigate this constantly shifting landscape, I am more aware than ever of my mission and determined to have good bones and teach others to do the same.

This post originally appeared in Strive Magazine in June 2020.