You’re a smart person. The axe is falling on leaders everywhere and you want to come across as valuable and indispensable, right? Here’s a quick cautionary tale to bullet-proof your credibility, straight from your TV.

Time for a how-not-to-do-it lesson from Jim Cramer, the host of CNBC’s Mad Money.

Did you see Cramer get smacked down by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show this month? The normally effusive Cramer transformed into a whipping boy, seriously undermining his credibility. After the smoke cleared, Cramer blamed his wimpy performance on his upbringing, saying he was raised “to take the high road.”

Jim, Jim, Jim. Think again. You allowed yourself to be mugged.

In today’s world, taking “the high road” means protecting your credibility (your brand) as well as that of your organization in a smart, thoughtful manner. A successful appearance either: A) enhances the brand, or B) protects the brand. If your integrity is being attacked, you must protect yourself or risk being roadkill. Let’s review where Cramer went wrong so you can avoid the same fate, whether you’re meeting the media or taking Q&A at a meeting:

Jim Cramer, left, host of CNBC’s “Mad Money” show talks with Jon Stewart during an appearance on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” Thursday, March 12, 2009 in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

Cramer agreed to a TV interview clearly billed as a “confrontation.” A duel. In that context, Stewart’s performance was dead-on. Cramer’s was dead-on-arrival.

A smackdown scenario could happen to you with an adversary, known or otherwise, in today’s one-up, know-it-all world. Here are two things you should not do:

  1. Don’t underestimate your opponent. Cramer pegged Jon Stewart as a late night comedian. A panty-weight opponent. Wrong. Jon Stewart is an ultra-smart, uber-influential man with a forum to express his viewpoints, for which he’s very passionate. Advice: Know thine enemy. Better to overestimate their savvy than underestimate it.
  2. Don’t think you can just “wing it.” For a prognosticator, Cramer was spectacularly short-sighted. Lack of preparation against an opponent is a death wish in today’s connected world. Cramer didn’t do his homework – he had no key messages. Thus, he had no influence. Stewart was locked and loaded: Cramer was shell-shocked. Advice: Be prepared to defend your point of view – deeply, clearly and influentially. Don’t allow yourself to be blind-sided and thrown off your game.

Wasn’t it amazing how Cramer groveled and went down in flames? The same thing could happen to you if you’re not prepared. Plenty of leaders are getting skewered – and damaged – by today’s empowered, informed audiences.

Bottom line – when profitability is on the line, you cannot “wing it” anymore. The best-prepared leader wins.

Take this to the bank: Poor preparation leads to poor outcomes, especially in a tough economic climate. Don’t become a casualty. As a communication coach for leaders, I should send Jim Cramer a thank you card for painfully demonstrating my point.