Speak up when leader's leave of absence risks rumour disease, says Kay Williamson
The relief rippled far and wide when Antonio Horta-Osorio resumed the chief executive helm at Lloyds.
He declared himself delighted to be back. So was a banking group to which he had brought so much energy and promise, its shareholders, the market and not least the Government, which needs to see Lloyds succeed to get its - or should we say our - money back.
The positive reaction to his return served to emphasise how damaging can be the effect of the loss or absence of a powerful leader, and how serious the dent that can be made in its image and fortunes.
And yet that damage, which had a direct impact on share prices, could have been so much less had there been much greater clarity about the problem that took him away from his desk.
All we had from the Lloyds board was an opaque statement saying that following medical advice he was taking a temporary leave of absence due to illness.
Cue alarm in a financial world never slow to get an attack of the jitters. Just how serious was this illness? With no clue from Lloyds the speculation rapidly grew that the stressed-out chief had suffered a breakdown and, rather than temporary, his absence might turn out to be permanent.
It was only after long days of information void in which the media bandied stress and breakdown as fact that we were permitted to know Antonio had been working over-long hours, that he had been suffering from lack of sleep, and that a change of regime would see him restored to full power.
So - what has all this to do with health insurers? Nothing on the face of it, you might think, but it does prompt the thought that in their discussions with corporate clients they are very much in a position to offer some word-to-the-wise, added-value advice.
It would be that when a key executive takes leave of absence for health reasons, there are implications for the health of the company too.
They concern issues of communication, internal as well as external, and if they are not decisively addressed ill-founded rumour and assumption can spread just as rapidly and damagingly as a disease.
Kay Williamson is managing director of Gravitas PR, which specialises in corporate communications in healthcare
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