Businesswise | What entrepreneurs should learn from the Chris Gayle controversy
What should have been an easy and routine two-minute sports interview for one of the world's most celebrated cricketers, Jamaican Chris Gayle, has delivered a devastating blow to his reputation internationally and will likely leave a nasty stain on his legacy as an accomplished sportsman.
In an untimely and unexpected off-the-field play, Gayle complimented an Australian reporter on live TV, then propositioned her, and when she looked away in obvious discomfort, deliberately avoiding eye contact, he struck out with the now infamous line, "Don't blush, baby".
That interview, the ensuing allegations of sexism and sexual harassment in the international press, widespread criticism and condemnation online, his botched apology and poor handling of subsequent media interviews, the media's exploitation of his racy social media posts, the hefty fine imposed by his club, fears of a ban or hiatus from the lucrative Big Bash League, new and opportunistic allegations of indecent exposure from a mystery accuser, and Chris's own threat of legal action against a media house for defamation have unearthed some priceless lessons for entrepreneurs in doing business internationally, communication and personal branding, among many others.
Let's start with doing business internationally. The big lesson for entrepreneurs is that understanding and being sensitive to the culture, laws and established professional codes of conduct of countries in which you plan to do business is critical for proper acclimatisation and will be critical for future success.
Years ago, I visited a business accelerator for non-US companies in Silicon Valley and learned that one of the biggest barriers facing foreign companies trying to enter the US market was cultural, particularly ignorance of norms and the inability to build strong professional relationships and adapt to the business environment. The same sentiment was echoed by a Chinese presenter at an international business conference I attended recently, in which she stressed the importance of trust, patience, family values, and creating strong connections with local partners as critical success factors for doing business in China.
The Chris Gayle controversy also serves as a timely reminder of the power and value of strong and effective communications skills. What you say, when you say it, your tone of voice, and body language speak volumes about your professionalism, character and sincerity. The public, existing and potential customers and partners, and other stakeholders judge you by what say and how you communicate.
I have written before about the importance of proper preparation for media interviews, but for some that may not be enough. Going into an interview with a clear objective, staying on message, and asserting your key points while maintaining authenticity, credibility and likeability is no easy feat. Therefore, undergoing formal training and coaching in the area of communications is a worthwhile investment, as, too, is hiring a qualified public-relations specialist to craft and disseminate important communications - especially when there is urgent need for damage control.
It is also valuable for networking, negotiations and business communications generally. In fact, most large companies have entire departments dedicated to corporate communications because of the critical role it plays in safeguarding their reputation and building their company brand.
Speaking of brands, one of the biggest lessons entrepreneurs should learn is how your use of social media shapes and communicates your personal brand. Since the infamous Chris Gayle/Mel McLaughlin interview, some reporters have combed through his social media pages and dug up the most provocative, sexually suggestive posts to fan the flames of controversy and portray him as a playboy sports star.
Unfortunately, some of Chris's Instagram pictures and posts gave them yards of material to work with, as in many cases, he is seen posing shirtless, partying, and boasting a very lavish, carousing lifestyle. In one racy post, he pays homage to a stripper pole outfitted in a bedroom at his home. Entrepreneurs have to be clear and deliberate about the personal brand they wish to assert, and ensure that their conduct online, and especially their use of social media, is in keeping with that brand.
One timely issue that has been brought up amid this saga is the need for greater education, sensitisation and training on sexism and sexual harassment, particularly in light of the fact that the country will soon enact new legislation to prohibit sexual harassment.
Entrepreneurs and businesses need to pay close attention to their obligations to create organisations and workspaces free from unwelcome verbal or physical acts of a sexual nature that cause the recipients to feel violated, intimidated, insulted or threatened.