Man bites dog; leadership communication pro undermines boss

Communicators mythologize ourselves as high-minded humanists, crusaders for candor and empresses of empathy, often hamstrung by cutthroat leaders hellbent on their agenda, people be damned.

But communication pros can be jerks, too.

Witness Mike Miner’s story in the current issue of the weekly Chicago Reader.

Essentially: Jean-Claude Brizard, the beleaguered and short-lived superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools had a communications chief who knew more than he did.

“She was aware of strategies I wasn’t aware of,” said Brizard of CPS’s chief communications officer Becky Carroll. “She knew things I didn’t know.”

Carroll doesn’t deny a split in her loyalties between Brizard and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who had a political agenda separate from CPS. “CPS pays my check so I definitely work for CPS,” Carroll says.

“But this is the same protocol as the Daley administration, when I worked in City Hall and for the planning department. You traditionally work for the mayor’s office. That’s the nature of the relationship.”

“She certainly was not a member of my team,” Brizard told Miner, while complaining that Carroll went around him to communicate with reporters and meanwhile discouraged reporters from contacting Brizard. “It was clear that Becky did not work for me. I regarded her as part of the communications team at City Hall. That was the way in which we operated, frankly.”

“I’m a big girl,” Carroll told Miner. “I’m hired to bring a lot of expertise to the job. I’ve been working 17 years in the public sector, public policy. There’s always a synergy you strive for, working in partnership with the mayor’s office.”

But when she found herself in a situation short of synergistic, this communicator knew who to be loyal to.

Brizard is out of a  job, but Rahm Emanual is still mayor. And Carroll is still chief communications officer at the Chicago Public Schools.

But Brizard’s successor should insist, during the interview process, that she be removed.

Right? —DM

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