Good to Godawful: 10 Things CEOs Should Never Do in a Crisis

Last Updated Apr 6, 2010 5:27 PM EDT

When the going gets tough, the tough get going -- to Hawaii! With Frontier Financial (FTBK) teetering on the edge of insolvency, John Dickson, president of the Everett, Wash., community bank, rolled up his sleeves recently and proceeded to head off to the island paradise for a mission-critical family vacation. Along with some rays, he also got canned.

Fine, so it wasn't exactly the George S. Patton thing to do. In fact, it breaks every rule in the leadership canon (although I never read Don Ho's genre classic "Lead From the Front... of the Mai-Tai line"). But at least Dickson is one guy willing to stick to his guns. In a letter resigning his position on Frontier's board after getting the axe, he wrote:

"My termination followed your improper demand that I refrain from exercising my employment right to earned vacation time for a family vacation during my children's Spring Break starting on March 31, 2010. I had earlier given you timely notification of my vacation schedule."
Reminds me of the time I had to lay down the law with a former employer by giving timely notification of my office nap schedule. Dickson's boss, Frontier Financial CEO Pat Fahey responded in the way one might expect of anyone who's obviously never read anything by Don Ho:
"[Dickson] was insisting on taking a vacation at a time that is very critical to the company and at a time that our staff is in a condition of great anxiety," Fahey said. "My view was that it was not an appropriate time for either of the two top leaders of the company to be gone. My opinion trumped his."
Yes, I can imagine the company's staff was in a state of "great anxiety." Which is EXACTLY why I would've had all of them join Dickson in Hawaii for a little R&R. I mean, those beaches are to die for. That said, I've got to hand it to Fahey for showing some brass. The man he fired is the son of Frontier Financial's founder, who presumably scheduled his vacations between company crises.

Well, something tells me we won't be seeing Dickson showing up on "Undercover Boss" anytime soon. Too bad. As that show illustrates, we learn as much from what bosses do wrong as what they do right.

In that spirit, I give you my list of the top 10 things corporate leaders should never do in handling a crisis:

10. Don a rubber "Jack Welch" mask and mutter darkly about using the "nuclear option." 9. Sound a foghorn whenever another customer closes her account. 8. Compare résumé formats with subordinates. 7. Snooze in your office while hitting practice putts. 6. Regale employees with your Captain Kirk impersonation. 5. Even if said impersonation is, like, killer. Really, don't do it. 4. Come to work dressed in camo gear. 3. Wait a week before visiting the cafeteria after it's devastated by a "category 5" hurricane. 2. Kick off your big speech at the annual shareholder meeting by yelling, "FAIL!" 1. Dude, chill. There's probably nothing you can do anyway. Who's up for some Mai-Tais?

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    Alain Sherter covers business and economic affairs for CBSNews.com.