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Lessons From the Ouster of Speaker Kevin McCarthy
Edward Segal, Crisis Management Expert Edward Segal, Crisis Management Expert
Washington, DC
Saturday, October 21, 2023


The unprecedented ouster of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy ealirer this month--and the turmoil it created— provides several crisis-related lessons for business leaders.

Consequences Of Unethical Behavior

"The turmoil in the House of Representatives should remind leaders of what can happen when people behaving unethically are allowed to continue in their roles without sanction," Ann Gregg Skeet, director of leadership ethics at Santa Clara University's Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, said via email.

"There is always the potential for their behavior to have spillover effects and disrupt the focus of an organization," she warned.

Impact Of Broken Relationships

"When we think of a senior executive being ousted from a corporation, often a scandal—such as misconduct —comes to mind," Stacy Rosenberg, an associate teaching professor at Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz College, said via email.

"However, much like in former Speaker Kevin McCarthy's case, the reason can be attributed to broken relationships and weak performance in the leadership role," she noted.


Corporate Parallels

Recent examples in the corporate world parallel the events leading up to Tuesday's vote that removed McCarthy from his leadership position.

"A lot of leaders and CEOs have stepped down this year, many because of pressure they were receiving by the people they oversaw," Amani Wells-Onyioh, a Democratic political strategist and partner and operations director of Sole Strategies.

Walt Disney Company

"In 2022, The Walt Disney Company's (NYSE-DIS) CEO, Bob Chapek, was replaced because Disney failed to meet earnings expectations due to losses in its direct-to-consumer division," Rosenberg recalled.

"The board tapped Robert Iger, who led Disney from 2005-2020, to return to the helm. Had Chapek's professional relationships been stronger, particularly with those who originally put him in the leadership position, he may have enjoyed a longer tenure," she concluded.


Then there is the case of Chris Licht, the former chairman of CNN.

From the time he was appointed chairman, the "staff didn't trust his ability to lead or his vision for CNN. When he made mistakes, they added to their distrust of him and it was clear there wasn't anywhere for him to go other than leave CNN," Wells-Onyoha observed.

Similar to Licht, "McCarthy had serious issues with his base from the start that he was never able to fix," she noted.

Time To Think Outside The Box?

The Speaker does not have to be a member of Congress. The House could consider appointing an outsider with appropriate leadership and crisis management experience to be its next leader.

In the business world, there are a number of current and former CEOs who might be a good fit for this critical and demanding role.

Expect The Unexpected

The Chapek and McCarthy situations "highlight the unpredictability of leadership roles when faced with unforeseen challenges and the importance of maintaining stakeholders' trust," Lakesha Cole, founder and principal publicists at she PR said via email.

Like their counterparts in the corporate world, members of Congress did not expect the events to unfold the way they did in the House chamber yesterday.

Fortunately, House rules require that the Speaker designate someone to replace him should the unexpected happen. Immediately after the Speakership was declared vacant yesterday, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-North Carolina) became interim Speaker until McCarthy's successor is approved.

This is another lesson business executives can learn from the unfolding chaos in the House.

No matter how remote a worst-case scenario may seem today, it can become a nightmare reality tomorrow.

Plan accordingly.

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Name: Edward Segal
Title: Crisis Management Expert
Group: Edward Segal
Dateline: Washington, DC United States
Direct Phone: 415-218-8600
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