Anna Wintour’s Low Emotional Intelligence Gives Her and Vogue a Black Eye to Heal
Anna Wintour says she owns her errors of racial insensitivity, missing compassion and ivory tower leadership, expressing she will do the work to learn, make corrections and improve. Yet her words are not resonating with employees or observers who have suffered similar treatment. That’s a big problem, not only for Wintour but also the Vogue brand.
The editor-in-chief of the magazine is the subject of a New York Times investigation and story about a work environment that reportedly: favored “thin, rich and white” women in the magazine pages and outside of it, was socially unaware about racial insensitivities, communicated offensive language in email and has been tone deaf to emotional and professional needs among the magazine’s Black professionals.
Even in apology, Wintour does not seem to fully grasp the harmful impact to which she contributed, whether out of ignorance, carelessness or arrogance.
This is one reason why the Times has reported that several Black journalists are calling for Wintour to cede her authority of Vogue and remove herself from Condé Nast.
While she has done what isn’t always done by people in a dispute, conflict or crisis by owning the behavior and apologizing, Wintour has not communicated why she realizes her actions and organizational culture could be experienced as hurtful nor has she communicated specifically what she will do, how and when in response.
What critics want to initially normally hear or read in crisis communications is how someone or an organization will measure improvement and success to remedy the shortcomings, errors, harm and pain and heal relationships.
All this leaves critics very likely doubting Wintour’s awareness of how hurtful her mindset and actions have been and how unlikely she is to be addressing the root problems and all issues that require correction and improvement.
This means anger and resentment fester and credibility and trust are viewed as absent or in low supply. Advertisers might feel unsafe with Wintour and Vogue and thus, she greatly increases the risk to her reputation and that of the magazine, which her career is in peril. That’s reality.
Negative momentum accelerates reputation rot and consequences.
Wintour will have to communicate more and do such with sustained humility, greater self awareness, much improved social awareness and detail, empathy as well as exhibit compassion in action.
She is not believable right now and that is a crisis — the magazine and hers— not being managed skillfully and effectively. Wintour has to learn this now and take immediate, thorough measures to protect Vogue and herself.
This is a call for relationship healing, which is not yet being conducted. Quality communication with her team and advertisers is an emergency, with Wintour being to willing to mostly listen and learn with deep attention and showing remorse that is genuine, felt as sincere and comforting, and inspires hope for improvement.
Wintour can protect Vogue, improve how she’s experienced by others, heal relationships and rebuild credibility and trust.
That will benefit employees, advertisers, the magazine and her reputation, career and business aspirations. Wintour just has to become aware of what needs to be done and be willing to do it with deep understanding of the why (it needs to happen) and with critically necessary humility, compassion and perseverance.
People are watching, judging and waiting for the fall. The good news for Wintour is she as a say in how her story, authority, career and life turn out.
Michael Toebe is a reputation specialist who helps individuals and organizations. He writes Red Diamonds Essays and Reputation Specialist Essays (both on the Medium platform) and analysis and advisory for online publications: Chief Executive, Corporate Board Member, New York Law Journal, Corporate Compliance Insights and Physicians Practice. He also publishes on LinkedIn and beBee and is the voice of the Red Diamonds Podcast.