When Good Leaders Screw Up… They Make it Right

Jim Taggart's picture



For many Canadians, and also Americans who have been exposed to him on television, Mike Holmes is seen as one of Canada’s most trusted people and a building contractor with a high degree of integrity. His show Holmes on Homesis hugely popular (my wife is a regular viewer) and has helped spawn copycat shows on the topic of home renovation.

In November 2009, Mike Holmes signed a deal with Dauphin Media to publish a magazine using his brand. Holmes, The Magazine to Make it Right did not last long on the newsstands. After two years it ceased publication, leaving thousands of subscribers asking for refunds for the remainder of their subscriptions. Because of the nature of the contract between Holmes and Dauphin Media, the publishing company actually ran the business operations; Holmes Group’s role was related to editorial content. The bottom line, unfortunately, was that the Holmes Group apparently was not responsible for refunding subscribers.

Despite attempts by many subscribers to obtain refunds, they were met by a wall of silence. According to the Holmes Group, an estimated 40,000 people had subscribed to the magazine, with perhaps upwards of $500,000 owing to subscribers.

After two years Mike Holmes released a “special” (aka one-time) issue of Make it Rightmagazine, which hit the newsstands on April 22, 2013 at the price of $9.99 (plus tax) per issue. This issue was intended to “…[celebrate] Mike’s 10 Year Anniversary on television.”

Devotees of Mike Holmes might argue that the problem wasn’t caused by him, that it was Dauphin Media that botched everything, and that Holmes, like subscribers, was the victim. If you wish to be kind to Mike Holmes, who loves to come across as the tough guy who’s on the side of consumers, that thought has only a few seconds of staying power. Holmes has carefully cultivated a personal brand over many years, characterized by honesty, integrity and knowledge (when it comes to fixing the messes caused by dishonest and incompetent contractors).

My only defense for Holmes is that he was incredibly naïve in signing legal documents that partially neutered his company in superseding any issues of contention arising with Dauphin Media. This has been an expensive lesson learned for Mike Holmes, perhaps not in a financial sense but clearly in a branding sense and especially in the tarnishing of his personal integrity. But then again, when your personal brand gets whacked so, too, may your future revenue generation be negatively affected.

It remains to be seen whether Mike Holmes will get his full mojo back. Restoring one’s integrity and regaining the trust of the public can take a long time.



Contrast Mike Holmes to British entrepreneur and multimillionaire Richard Branson, perhaps the king of building a personal brand. Branson rubs some people the wrong way because of his flamboyant manners in marketing his network of companies under the Virgin brand. Yet he’s open about who he is, doesn’t pretend to be anything else, contributes to philanthropic causes globally, and has a lot of fun with his employees along the way.

Richard Branson understands branding very, very well. His column in Canadian Business magazine contains excellent advice on management and leadership, frequently where he opens the kimono to share personal stories of where he made mistakes. Branson, in a way, has positioned himself to be able to take flak in the media if he were to screw up. Holmes, on the other hand, has placed himself on a pedestal over the years, creating the illusion that his reputation is beyond reproach by portraying himself as the go-to-guy for home owners who’ve been screwed by incompetent contractors.

There’s a vitally important lesson here for those in leadership positions, whether you’re leading a small team or the head of an organization.

People are usually very forgiving to major mistakes committed by those they follow when: a) the leader immediately acknowledges the mistake, b) immediately corrects it, and c) quickly compensates through monetary or non-monetary means those affected.

When a leader has created the perception of integrity among his or her followers, then expectations have been raised to the appropriate level. It then becomes a matter of daily maintenance for the leader to ensure that they live the values and principles that people have come to expect and demand.

This brings me back to what I’ll call an expanded title for this post: When Good Leaders Screw Up… They Make it Right to Maintain Their Integrity and Personal Brand.

Are you building and nurturing YOUR personal brand and personal integrity as a leader?

For a successful entrepreneur it can mean extreme wealth. But with extreme wealth comes extreme responsibility. And the responsibility for me is to invest in creating new businesses, create jobs, employ people, and to put money aside to tackle issues where we can make a difference.

– Richard Branson

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