Leading in extreme circumstances, with Ineke Botter

Series 8, Episode 3 of The Future of Internal Communication Podcast

04 Oct 2023

Ineke Botter is a rarity. In what was, and what continues to be, a male-dominated industry, she is one of the very few female leaders to have led the organisations that designed, built and launched the mobile networks we rely on today for always-on digital connectivity.  

Her work has taken her around the world, from the former Eastern Bloc to Europe and from there to the Middle East, Central Asia and beyond. More poignantly, she’s led organisations and teams in some of the most extreme and hostile situations, surviving political unrest, war, terrorist threats and more.  

In this episode, Ineke shares what she’s learned about effective leadership during times of adversity. Most importantly, she presents what she’s learned about how to adapt the style and tone of leadership communication when lives are at risk.  

Link to listen on Podbean



Cat Barnard (00:02.169)
Hello and welcome to another episode of the Future of Internal Communication podcast. I'm your co-host Kat Barnard and as ever I'm joined by Jen Sproul and Dominic Waters. Today we've got a great guest who's coming to chat with us about the topic of leadership communication. Inika Bota is in fact an old, by which I mean 1990s, colleague of mine. She was actually my boss.

on two separate projects in the days of deploying, designing and deploying the mobile phone networks across Europe and beyond. Ineke was born in the Netherlands, studying corporate and international law at the University of Amsterdam, before embarking on a long career in mobile telecommunications. She was a pivotal figure in the design and deployment of the commercial

2 and 3G network builds across Europe in the 1990s and early 2000s before moving to outside of Europe. And she has worked in a vast array of countries, each of which has presented its own unique set of challenges.

for herself and her leadership teams. So I'm really, really curious as to what she's gonna share with us about leadership communication in extreme circumstances today. Elsewise, Inneke earlier this year, I think, published a book called Your Phone, My Life. So for anybody interested in the history of mobile telecommunications, that is a must. And she is a speaker for a Dutch agency, I think called...

talks. So welcome, Inika. Thank you for joining us today.

Ineke Botter (01:59.106)
Thank you, Kent. Thank you for introductions and nice to be here.

Cat Barnard (02:04.101)
I feel as if I cannot possibly comprise everything that you've done and everywhere that you've been into a pithy two or three line bio. So what I was hoping was that as we're talking through some of the experiences you've encountered today, you can share with our audience places that you've been and challenges that you've experienced because I think...

when they listen in, our audience are going to find out that you have indeed worked in some pretty extreme and challenging circumstances. War, aftermath of earthquake, aftermath of war, etc etc. So far from what we, most of us, would be familiar with in terms of stability and normality,

if I could kickstart this conversation with probably quite a routine question, which is, given all the experiences of leadership that you've had, what have you found to be the essential ingredients of good leadership?

Ineke Botter (03:19.374)
Okay, I think that you have to go one step back. The minute that you are appointed as a CEO, which I have done many times in many countries, they appoint you because you have the skills, the experience, the vision, etc. And it is of course also the chemistry why they choose you. So you have already proven your point and then they nominate you. The minute that they nominate you,

They put you in the Chamber of Commerce as the responsible person. And that is the key word. You as a good leader, you are the responsible person. And that responsibility brings a whole array of other things with it, of course. Not only you are responsible and you have to take that responsibility, you are accountable. So that is important. And the consequence of that is that you have to make that the people...

work with you in a pleasant way, through all circumstances. And therefore, I think that it is very important that you develop a way of talking to people. And certainly, in the companies that I led, sometimes I had more than 40 different nationalities. So you need to be clear, crisp, what you want to achieve and how you can work with the people to achieve that. So you have to, not only you have to explain your vision,

agreed with your shareholders of course, your vision and then explain, you know, this is the plan, these are the objectives, this is how we're going to do it. And make it clear. And there, of course, this is what we will discuss later, I'm sure, but there is internal communications. Yeah, that internal communications has to reflect that, exactly that. And so your leadership is about responsibility and accountability, about clear talking.

about making sure that everyone understands my principle is kiss, keep it super simple and then people do understand it and if you have patience and empathy with them, especially in difficult circumstances, that will make you a good leader in my experience. And I wouldn't know what, I have talked about this question of course we discussed it a little bit beforehand, but I wouldn't add so many more things.

Ineke Botter (05:42.506)
I think that these are really important elements, the most important elements.

Cat Barnard (05:47.005)
And I think as well, just to contextualize that, because I think what you are bringing to this podcast series and this set of conversations is quite a unique perspective because many of the guests that come and chat with us about their lived experience are operating in mature established organizations. So I think it's really important that our audience understands that for the most part,

Organisations that you have led have been start-up organisations where licenses are awarded by the local equivalent of Ofcom, let's call it that, and an organisation has to scale from a very skeleton pre-launch team to a team...

capable of launching a commercially viable organisation. And I think sometimes that operating dynamic and that kind of mindset is quite different from more established, mature organisations, and also organisations operating in sectors that are more stable and traditional. So I think that's quite just an interesting point to note.

I know obviously you've run organisations, you've come into organisations that are more mature and so on, but I think there is for me, definitely a marked difference between established and mature organisations and start-up organisations in terms of the operating parameters, what's expected

that line of communication being absolutely mission critical because if it doesn't happen in a crisp, coherent form, then nothing actually happens.

Ineke Botter (07:55.806)
Yeah, you're right. For the first 10 years, I did license hunting and establishing companies. But from let's about 2000, I have been reorganizing very big organizations. And yes, you're right. Every step in the life cycle requires a different approach. Just this week, I will publish on LinkedIn the DNA of a company and the DNA of a company, it goes hand in hand, what you just said, meaning that if you are a startup,

and you have very few people. People intrinsically understand you much better than the bigger you get and the older you get as an organization. So I compare these two. The startup is a baby or an infant, and then you have a young organization as a teenager, and then you have an adult organization, which is about 20 years old or so, and then you have an old organization like the Phillips in this world, 125 years old this year, I believe.

Anyway, so every single time you have to adapt, not only your leadership, and that leadership consists for a large part of course, in communication, right? It is very important that you communicate how you want to lead, otherwise you get nowhere. So yes, indeed it is a different story, but the smaller the organization is, and you know, you sketch the situation with setting up mobile operations,

in enormous pressure because you had to do it and you had penalties of millions on your head if you wouldn't do it on time. So that communication must be very quick. The lucky part is that for those organizations most people understood what you were talking about. Because they were hired because they had this expertise. Later on when the organization is much bigger you have a different issue there because quite often

they don't even know what the organization does exactly, except for their own department. And maybe the department that they talk to from day to day, sometimes every day or every week or so. But I always say, if you work in my case, the mobile operation, it's like working in the bakery, you need to understand how the cookies are baked. In other words, I will make sure that they will get courses and training in general terms. What is it that this organization does?

Cat Barnard (10:00.813)

Ineke Botter (10:21.29)
And I insist on that. It is very, very important. Because the internal communication will stop. If the finance can't talk to technical people, the technical people cannot talk to marketing or marketing captain cannot talk. You can have, I don't know how many internal communication managers, but you will never solve that. So you have to make sure that the organization and the biggest organization I ever let had 3000 people. I didn't have the money to do that.

but the somewhat smaller ones, one and a half thousand people, you can do that also because I had the money to do it. But you train them. And so that is a requirement as well. It's not only the CEO who talks to the personnel, it's also so that the CEO has to give tools and in this case understanding of what it is that we do. And once that understanding, and again you're right, it is different phases of the life cycle.

Cat Barnard (11:10.873)

Ineke Botter (11:18.226)
have different requirements. But once that understanding is there, then your internal communication flows much better as well because, ah, oh yeah, I've seen that, I know that. Oh yes, yeah, oh no, now I know who to speak to and so on and so on. So that it is a constant wheel that turns in fact, you can't stop it.

Cat Barnard (11:27.733)

Cat Barnard (11:38.635)
Which is just so interesting because you've just described a wheel that turns, so you've given a very circular metaphor. And actually, I suspect a lot of organisations that are experiencing engagement difficulties at the moment are thinking in a very linear fashion and not thinking about the essentiality of ensuring that each and every...

staff member understands how they fit in to the much bigger schema of what that organisation is there to deliver the value that it offers in the world. I suspect that there is far too little investment in making sure that each and every contributor fully understands the value of what they are there to do and how it fits into the bigger jigsaw. Really interesting.

Ineke Botter (12:15.583)

Ineke Botter (12:29.73)
Yeah, I think for me it is absolutely necessary and I was only strengthened in my opinions when I entered an organisation in Azerbaijan where I had 1500 personnel directly employed and about 10 000 indirectly and people in the ones that are directly employed communicated outside with all the suppliers and we were doing a huge overall expansion of the network.

So there was 10,000 people involved. If your own group doesn't know what to say, or doesn't know, you know, how it all works, how are you supposed to then manage the other 10,000 people? It's impossible. So I was strengthened in that. And I started a training center that could train 200 people per day, because that organization was not trained at all. Yeah, so also if I look at the budgets that I used for that,

to make sure that the training is in order. I would allocate about five to 7% of salary to training of that person, personnel, not only one person. And depending on the task, of course, the technicians are much higher, but that was the average. So in comparison to the Western world, this is very high. I've never seen an organization, Deutsche Telekom, for example, in those days spent 2%, and I spent 7%.

So there's a huge difference. But my opinion is that if people, as I said just now, if they don't know how the cookie factory works, how are you supposed to communicate? It's impossible. And it poses a very big problem for the communications department because both internal and external communication need to have stakeholders in the process that understand what you're talking about. Yeah.

Cat Barnard (14:25.337)
I mean, it does seem pretty elemental when you paint that picture. And I would wager also that right now, as we are become more and more embroiled in economic uncertainty, training budgets are very often the first thing that gets pushed to one side in pursuit of financial security, whatever that even means in the 2020s.

Ineke Botter (14:53.479)

Cat Barnard (14:55.553)
But, and yet, it's such an elemental thing, isn't it? To understand what I am here to do and where I sit in the wider context of all these colleagues and the entire organisational ecosystem of customers and suppliers and so on and so forth. It's just a no-brainer. So that, what you've just highlighted is one crucial tenet of good.

leadership and good leadership communication, I want to flip the switch a tiny, well, not a tiny bit, quite a lot, because I anticipate that there is a significant difference in communication style for a leader between times of reasonable stability versus times of

crisis and extreme circumstance. So how, if you could, how would you say a leader's style, communication style should differ in times of crisis?

Ineke Botter (16:05.646)
Well, I think again, you know, I want to take a step back first. Yeah. If you, if you enter and nowadays also in the Western world, of course, a situation where a disaster can hit, right. Uh, and it has not hit yet. You better make sure that you have a disaster plan in place and that disaster plan must be known by all employees and rehearsed as well. Yeah. Uh, I'm sure that we saved many lives.

by having a super disaster plan in place in Lebanon when the war started. And that includes as well a communication plan and a communication plan that is not only internal communications, but also outside communication, especially in war. How do you communicate in war? That's very, not very simple. So if you have that disaster plan in place and it's rehearsed, as I said, and that is...

fine-tuned from time to time because not all disasters are the same. Now I'll give an example when I went to Lebanon this was all it was so dandy blah everything was nice no problem nice swimming in the sea beautiful restaurants da da. The first bomb hit my then to be boss and he ended up in the hospital 17 operations his bodyguard is driver dead. Yeah but in a very shortly after I came and then someone said

Yeah, but we have the bird flu coming. I said, okay, now that's enough. Now we need the disaster plan. And that disaster plan was a huge exercise because of course I had, I don't know, 700 employees or so in Lebanon, small country, and a lot of stuff was outsourced. So again, you need to make sure that also the outsourced part is communicating. But by doing that and involving everyone in the...

almost everyone. It's more like the job titles. You need to have two people in customer care, where customer care is maybe 400 people or much more even. But you need to have from each function, you have someone who participates in putting a disaster plan in place. Now, once the disaster plan in place, then you have a basis for decision making and for leadership. Yeah. So the first thing you do as a leader, you demand a disaster plan. You reverse a disaster plan.

Ineke Botter (18:30.386)
And that's a big part of that disaster plan is communication plan. Then when, excuse me, when the shit hits the vent, yeah. When the bombs are just circling over your head, like in my case in Lebanon. Um, in 2006, I had my disaster plan in my drawer. So it was developed especially for epidemic birth flu. Yeah. But we used it for a war.

There is not so many different things. I mean, what is different in an epidemic, you can't approach people, yeah? Whereas in a war, you can still, but you can't travel because there's a bomb over your head coming down, yeah? So it is a bit of a different slant, but it is almost 90% applicable. And if you as a leader have a good disaster plan, and I had it already in Kosovo.

And since then, because again, you know, war, civil war, civil unrest, they called it, but the whole thing went up in flames. So it was war for me. And if you have that in your drawer and you know it's been rehearsed and you know who is responsible for what and you make, we did that in accordance with the World Health Organization planning, which means you define five levels.

Yeah, first level, everything is safe. Fifth level, rule out war. And you know, in all these steps, who needs to be there to make sure that the company keeps running. If you have that plan in place and you know that these people know the responsibility and you know also that they, you know, that function will continue to work, your decision-making of course is much easier because you have a basis to talk from.

Now, and I would highly recommend everyone. I was flabbergasted when no one had a plan in place with COVID. That to me is unbelievable. But okay, it is how it is. Also the best we'll learn. Then, you know, the next thing is that once you have that plan in place, of course, your communication lines are very, very important because you already have defined this in your plan. And internal communications is...

Ineke Botter (20:55.906)
Plus external communications, and in my case, that's almost always the same person. There's someone who needs to be next to you for 24-7. Yeah, you work 24-7, don't you worry. So you have someone next to you who is there all the time. But you make sure that you have your plan in place. And once you have your plan in place, you can act fast. You'll have a need to be much more decisive. You have a need to be even more clear than you already are.

Yeah, no beating about the bush, just blunt, bump, bump. This is what we're going to do. Yeah. And that is what we're going to do. There's no discussion. And the other thing is of course that, you know, you have to do it with empathy. Yeah. So it can be blunt, but it still has to have empathy because especially youngsters. Now these youngsters in phase three and phase four and phase five, they sit at home with their parents, yeah, I won't have them around, but you know, the youngsters know, I don't have to come.

It is safe that I don't come. I will not be fired. They will not cut my salary. It's safe. It's allowed that I can stay at home for as long as it's necessary. That is very important. And the other thing that you have to put in place, especially in the higher, the more critical phases, is a ward system. And again, it's internal communications. Recurse in a ward system.

You have seven people, seven is a metric number, but also in a word is it a metric number. So you have person one calls person two, person two calls person three and so on till the end. And then person seven calls person one. And then everyone knows that group is safe. You have to have a system in place whereby you can lock where people are. Nowadays, of course, you can put apps on the phone,

In those days, those apps didn't track and trace. It's much more common nowadays. Even in those days, we could track and trace. But that was for different purposes, not for just a person. But now you can put an app on your phone. Where are you? And in wartime, this is crucial. The mobile phone is number one above everything else. Because if a bomb goes off, you can find people. And if you don't have a mobile phone, forget it.

Ineke Botter (23:22.402)
Just forget it, there's a book written about that, by the way, very interesting book. But again, this is very important. So internal communications and also external communications, as I said, I want one person to be that, or two or three, but same job description. And they need to be next to you. So you have this disaster plan, you know how to communicate, and you use the, as an extended arm almost, communications.

And there is no business of communications challenging you. And that needs also to be very clear because you are in my case, I'm hired to do this firefighting. Yeah. So I'm not going to have that someone is going to tell me, Oh, but I don't want to do that. You should have thought that beforehand. Yeah. Not when, when the, excuse me, shit is the fan. Yeah, that's too much too late. So that is basically the difference is more decisive.

You can do that because you have a plan and be friendly to your personal. Yeah. Because these kids, quite often kids are scared, silly, and with, you know, justified, it's not a party.

Dom (24:34.334)
Inikath, I mean, fascinating hearing your experiences of managing through a real crisis. We talk about crisis a lot, but what you faced were pretty dramatic and serious crises. It'd be great to focus a bit more about those behaviours because you've been very, very clear about the plan. But you mentioned that firstly, something very interesting there about being clear, but also being empathetic and being direct, but also being understanding. And I think a lot of leaders.

would find that quite a challenge to do. So my first question would be really, how do you manage that balance? And then leading from that, then looking at from your experience when people are living through these crises, what they expect from their leaders. But let's go back to that first one first. How does you manage that balance of clarity and direction and emotion and relationship?

Ineke Botter (25:25.922)
I think the clarity and direction is based on the fact that it is all mapped out. So you have this framework in your head already. So that makes that you as a leader can be much more sure about what you're doing. So this is a business aspect. It has to be this A and B. One, two, three, four. That is how it has to be. And also because these operations cannot go down. There's no way in the world.

that the mobile operation can go down because as I said, it's number one. And sometimes parts of your network are bombed. So you have to make sure that you understand how to repair that in those conditions as well. But that is the business side of it. The empathy comes in when you have to deal with people. It's the people who have to do that. So you can be very clear, but you have to take...

constantly into account that you're talking about people. And those people are the ones that can walk out and disappear and never come back, which happened to me as well, during a war and just forget it. I'm not doing this. Yeah. And then you have a serious problem, of course, but that needs to be catered for already in your disaster plan. But you have to understand that it's, you know, you as a leader, it's not that you don't have fears.

It's not that you are totally, you know, shall I say a block of ice or something. No, you're not. Yeah. You are also, and you are in the, you are a target. You yourself. So of course there is a emotion with you as well. And that emotion, you understand that because you have it. Now, if you just think about youngsters, and I'm not talking for fun about youngsters, because especially in mobile.

The average age is about 28 and those days especially. So, you know, how is it if you're very young and you don't have much experience, you need to intuitively understand that. And if you don't understand that you're in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yeah, I have seen CEOs of companies who could not deal with this at all and left. So the ship is there. I had to leave the war at one point because I...

Ineke Botter (27:49.806)
Simply they would fire me if I wouldn't. But I wouldn't want to leave. It is important that you stay there with the people. And in no circumstance have I left in any other place. And I've done quite a lot of this stuff. So now we're talking still about Lebanon. But yes, it is very important that you take your business decision, your business communication about factual things.

Ineke Botter (28:19.858)
And the empathy is something else. It doesn't mean that you can have the time even, to stroke someone's head and say, oh, poor. No, the empathy is in the fact that people feel safe. You will not fire them. You will make sure that they can go to a doctor if it is necessary. Under any circumstance, you will try and help them intuitively do the right thing for them. You can't be a psychologist. There's no time for that.

But you can make the rules so that, as I said, everyone feels safe. And

Dom (28:57.822)
And that leads very much, I guess, into the second part of the question. You've already started to answer it really, but it's when you're going through a crisis. And of course, there are lots of different types of crises. But when you're going through a crisis, what do you think people need from their leaders? You've mentioned about that safety. But it'd be interesting to know what else.

Ineke Botter (29:14.722)
Hmm, I think visibility, yeah, you need to be there. And as I said, you know, I have seen people fleeing in that circumstance. You cannot expect that a company will even function if you flee. It's a different thing if you're, again, you know, as I said, I had to leave at one point because otherwise I would be fired. Then I had to leave anyways.

But you need to have a plan in place for that situation as well. What happens if you, if the bomb hits you, which in my case could have easily have happened. Yeah. And bombs literally fell down like 500 meters from me. So very close. But if you make your disaster plan, it also needs to have a succession plan inherently. What if this person is not there?

Who is the one who takes over in a minute? So of course, yeah, that all these things need to be in place, need to be understood. And people need to take that responsibility because that's very, very important. You cannot appoint someone without discussing the contents of the task. Yeah, because then it will never ever work, of course. Again, it's a question of communication and preparation. Now, I think that, what else would I say?

Dom (30:36.61)
Well, I've got one more question on that actually, because you faced a set of circumstances, I suspect are quite unique. And not many of the people listening to this will have experienced it, but they can learn a lot from what you've done and apply it to different circumstances. So I guess my last question, this whole thing around behavior is, how have you personally managed that fear? Because you said you were a target. And of course, I guess you can't show that fear certainly strongly anyway. So how have you learned as a leader to combine

Ineke Botter (30:38.719)

Ineke Botter (30:42.62)

Ineke Botter (30:49.398)

Ineke Botter (30:57.718)

Dom (31:06.446)
fear of the fact that you're facing lots of different uncertainties, but also give that clarity and that focus and that reassurance to the teams that you're leading.

Ineke Botter (31:15.75)
Yes, no, you know, this is something you can discuss for a very long time, but it comes down to one thing. How do you respond to traumatic circumstances? And that is something you can only find out by experience. And the first experience at war I had in 92 or so, 93 maybe, when I was in Croatia.

and they were shooting all around me. So, okay, I can do that. And then it builds up. From that, I had a civil unrest in Kosovo when everything was on fire and lots of shooting and lots of people dead. So then that's another experience. And if you go through these experiences and you know you can handle them, then you are safe in yourself. It doesn't take away all the fear.

But you do know that you're not someone who flees or drops everything or whatever. Yeah, you do know. And I think that is very important. It must be in your character as well, of course. It's not something you can learn. You need to be very responsible. And I've always been very responsible from when I was very small, because I had to do a lot of things as a small child already. That's to a certain extent have helped me in being a good leader in that sense.

I will not walk away from problems. Not.

Dom (32:44.814)
So it sounds like a chunk of it is your character, one is a character, the set of skills that you have. A chunk of it is self mastery, reassuring yourself that you've approached these sort of challenges before and you've survived them. And then you've also described a chunk around skills, I think as well, about how do you then make yourself clear and connect with people. So it's a fascinating combination of factors there.

Ineke Botter (32:49.75)

Ineke Botter (33:06.13)
Yeah, I think you have to also tolerate a certain fear. You cannot say, oh, I'm not scared. And a bomb drops next to you. And you fall on a marble floor with a very big impact. Because if you have never experienced a bomb, you have no idea what it means. So you cannot say, oh, I'm not scared. That's ridiculous. You need to be sensible also towards yourself. And say, yes, of course, it's fine to be scared.

Jen (33:23.167)

Ineke Botter (33:35.822)
The fact that you are scared is not infectious. You cannot communicate that fear to a large extent. Everyone will understand that if a bomb goes off and you fall on the floor and you hit your head and so on and so forth, but of course you're not 100%, okay. Everyone, you don't need to explain that. But to transfer fear to someone else, no. Avoid it.

Jen (34:01.172)
Well, Inika, this is fascinating stories and, you know, other things you've been through. You talk about so many words and things and phrases that you use from responsibility to clarity, to empathy, to our style, to having that plan and creating that understanding. And I just want to see, we've talked quite a lot about the experiences you've had and how you lead. And you said a lot that actually a big part of this in crisis is having that plan.

and knowing what we're going to say. And you have in communication by your side, it's a tool and key tool in how you're dealing with that. And I guess, now you're the leader, what I want to know is, what about the role of the, you've got this internal and obviously external communication person by your side who's helping you navigate and deliver that communication plan that you've prepped for, that you've done all the tasks for. What do you look for from that person that

or that role or that function that's by your side, helping you to manage those extreme crises? How can that internal communication or external communication function? What do you expect from them? How do they work with you through that?

Ineke Botter (35:16.502)
First of all, of course, they are involved, heavily involved in the planning and stuff, and heavily involved in the whole organization of it. So from that point of view, it's very important that I can trust that the communications person, whether internal or external, I don't mind that, but that the person has an up-to-date database of all people that we interact with, important stakeholders.

all employees, all shareholders representatives, all board members, everything needs to be in a database that functions and updates constantly because it can't be the case that you're sloppy and you forget someone and then we have a problem. So there is just no space for that. So that is the first thing I would require from an A communication person. Have your facts. Be sure that your database is in order.

Be sure that you work with human resources. If it changes, if an organization changes, organizational changes, which I've done, I've reorganized lots of companies, then of course your whole plan has to be adapted as well. Because now all of a sudden you were in a critical function, but now in your new job, you're not in a critical function. So your level changes.

So you also have the communication person is not only working closely with me, but also with the other members of the management team. Yeah. And especially with HR. So that's very important. The other thing I would say is, you know, communications can do a lot of propose, make a lot of proposals and suggestions and all that, but in a work situation or in a very big crisis, there is no question of challenging. It doesn't exist.

And you already know that. You have worked towards, you have rehearsed this as well. So I expect from a communication person that this person, again, we don't know exactly, but you know, that the person has experience with crisis is very important. Now, if you work in Lebanon, everyone has experienced a crisis yet. It's one big crisis in the country. But if you work in another country, like in Azerbaijan, I had an internal and external...

Ineke Botter (37:35.938)
head of communications, right? He didn't understand anything. So I'm sorry, but I had to fire him. And the next one was not as good as my Lebanese lady because she was excellent. Yeah, she had the whole stakeholder picture in front of her. She knew how to communicate. She was best friends with HR. She was excellent. You will not find someone without any...

crisis experience that is immediately excellent of course. But one thing is very important, there's always respect, but the boss is the boss. And certainly in a crisis. There is no democratic system for a crisis. I'm sorry.

Jen (38:22.984)
No, absolutely. Well, as you say in a crisis, it's decisive, clear, done, is absolutely fundamental. And as you explain all those things, I know, obviously, you have been in extreme circumstances, but I also hop back to what you were saying earlier, is that the surprise you had about how limited or the lack of number of people that had a plan for COVID. You know, and actually, for me, it always surprises me the

Ineke Botter (38:28.111)

Ineke Botter (38:45.324)

Jen (38:50.492)
little interest or take up there is in crisis communication training or crisis communication planning. I find that quite surprising sometimes as well. And I sit here and I think, you know, I wonder how many people have got that database at the tip of their fingers mapped out to work in that way so clearly, and so crisply, as you say, and having that information and also having the relationships. So it's having the information.

but also having the relationships, as you said, with the other stakeholders. And you mentioned one word around you want to trust them. So for you, is that what makes up that, what makes you trust a communication professional? Is it relationships? Is it databases? Is it processes? What can you go, I, is there any kind of, I guess, personal skills or way about someone that makes you go, I can really trust them? What creates that sense of trust for you?

Ineke Botter (39:45.982)
I think it is a balance between, first of all, the people that I employ are very highly educated. There's no business of taking a mediocre person because you can't use them. So they have to have a very good education and they need to be communicators of course. You can't have an introvert in a crisis that doesn't exist. Now that is also rare in communications I would say, but you know it doesn't exist. So yes, it must be

It's not a friendship that might go one step too far, even though 75% of the world is based on relationships. It's only the West that is based on rules and regulations. 75% of the world is based on friendship and relationships. So tribal thinking is maybe not 75, but certainly 50% of the world still the case. So you have to have a personal rapport with that person.

I'm not saying that you have to go out with that person and have a dinner every week. No, no, no. But you have to take the time to talk and to make sure that you understand each other. Because my example of the lady in Lebanon who worked for me for nearly five years, she understood me very well and I understood her very well. So you have to develop that understanding. And that means that you need to take time for that. You need to talk.

not only about the press release that goes out, but you need to talk one hour per week at least and say, okay, what is it that we are going to do now? And that is just regular things, all kinds of the regular PR and news, whatever, but also this subject, and especially in situations that you can almost foresee there's a crisis coming, you don't know when, but there might be one next week.

And the nasty part of a crisis, a war, is it starts at 11 o'clock in the morning and by four o'clock it's full-fledged war. There is no ramp up to war. So you need to understand this person, this person understands you and hopefully you have time to develop that relationship. The guy, as I said, one of the guys who worked for me in Azerbaijan, there was no way to work with him because he didn't understand, I didn't understand him either.

Ineke Botter (42:07.238)
there was not a person for this job, for that job. Maybe it's another job, but not that one. So you build a relationship. You drink a coffee, you drink a cup of tea, you have a sandwich together, you make sure, because again, the third time, but when the shit hits the fan, I need to be able to trust this person from the first second onwards. Yeah. I'm not like, what shall we do?

Jen (42:30.904)
Mm-hmm. Mm.

Ineke Botter (42:35.794)
No way, Jose. It doesn't exist.

Jen (42:39.672)
That's brilliant. There's so much you've said, Eneko, and I think this word, understanding and responsibility and crisp and trust and relationship and like I say, understanding your organization, but understanding each other, understanding that clarity, making sure we have the plans, that we have all the tools, that we all know where we're going and doing that is absolutely fundamental. It sounds like also a lot is in the preparation.

a lot as in so in the relationships as well and how we are understanding it at the outset. As we sort of wrap up, I guess, this episode, which has been fascinating, I guess my closing question to you is, is what one piece of practical advice should an internal communicator take from today's conversation?

Ineke Botter (43:27.214)
Make sure that you have your plan in order. Make sure that you discuss this. If your boss doesn't discuss it with you, you discuss it with your boss, right? It is something that is so critical that you cannot have a hierarchy standing in the way of this. You have to initiate this discussion and say, look, I think that it is important that we start working on this. I want to speak to HR about this. I want to speak to you about this.

Jen (43:29.816)

Ineke Botter (43:56.734)
Is that okay? And you really have to do that. And you also have to make sure that you give the people the tools. And you can, because you have your database. So you can share information if it's necessary. And this database costs far. The database of the people and the shareholders and the board, etc. That is your inner circle, if you will.

but it also extends to the fire brigade, to the Red Cross, to the television, to the radio, to lots and lots of stakeholders in this process, because how do I communicate? When the bomb went off in Lebanon and killed Prime Minister Hariri, and I've been involved in that business for a very long time now. What happens? The televisions, you know, the first thing that happens is that your network is congested and no one can make a call.

So the first thing you need to do is to make sure within two minutes, get that person in the television broadcasting station on the line and make sure that you say, please stop calling. Information will be, you know, that it, that it, that yeah. Because if people keep calling, the whole, the whole country is crying still holds. If you see what I mean.

So it is extremely important that communications, as I said, internal and external, don't make too many differences. That communication has that tool in place. What happens if? The bomb went off not very long after in your, what is it called? The underground in London on the 7th of July 2007. Yeah, I was accused.

Jen (45:37.184)
Yeah, I remember that day.

Ineke Botter (45:40.658)
I was accused as the CEO of the biggest network in Lebanon that I had turned the knob and I had switched off the mobile network and in crisis. That is not that it's not even feasible, it's not even possible. But the thing is the network is congested. And when these journalists, you know, they were superstitious anyway, when they came to my office, I said, look, now you have to look at what happens in London, all networks are down. And that is because of this. There's no other explanation for it.

That's a factual explanation. That is how it is. Yeah, so that communication person has, you know, also knows the scenarios, what to do immediately. You have two minutes, literally two minutes to give directions. And then your whole network is congested. So you need to give the directions to security. That's another, I forgot to tell you that yet. But it's also a very important point is that

internal communications, external communications, talks to security. Yeah, in most, well, in the companies that I led, of course, you have a huge security department. And that security knows, you know, we have to kick in now as well. Right. So there are a couple of touching points that are really important for the communications person.

Jen (47:02.268)
I think it's been fascinating and I think that's certainly for our listeners, isn't it, a call to action, go away and have you got that plan? Have you got that information? And if you had those two minutes, could you give a decisive piece of communication? Could you land it? Could you deal with it? I think that's been brilliant. Kat, I don't know if you want to close today's podcast. Obviously, I know you've worked with Nicker an awful lot.

Cat Barnard (47:25.273)
Well, I think, yeah, just to close on that point, because it is such a salient point, Jen, you know, all too often we hear from internal communicators who want to understand better what the latest content channel is or what content they should be distributing. But actually, no, we're not too many weeks away from...

the wildfires in Hawaii, as one example, where the communications infrastructure went down. It was one of the first things that went down because obviously it was consumed by the fire. And unless you have got that crisis communication plan, you're nowhere. And so that is a really

Cat Barnard (48:17.305)
You know, internal communication is about a lot more than content and channels. And we're, you know, we're closing out on 2023 and the world is far from stable. So perhaps that ought to be in every toolbox of every internal communicator. But Inika, thank you so, so much for sharing some of your story with us today and sharing with the audience, you know, some of

your experiences, some of your insights, what you've learned. For me, the big takeaway is you can't run effective organizations without investment in people and the relationships that hold those people together in good times and in bad. So I think that's probably the note that I would end on today. Thank you so much for joining us.

Ineke Botter (49:05.846)
You're most welcome. And I hope your internal communications people take note of this. OK, you're welcome. Bye bye.

Jen (49:14.489)
Absolutely. Thank you.