Leading during a pandemic is clearly more challenging than navigating a smaller crisis. Yet the lessons learned for responding and communicating as events unfold is the same.
Instead of blaming others or focusing on mistakes made, tell people what you’re doing to improve the situation and keep them safe. Let them know they can count on you and your team for information support and resources.
It is critical to demonstrate unity across business units and brands. That means working together and relying on partnerships for expert guidance and advice. This is not a time to be a know it all or go at it alone. It is a time to seek multiple opinions to make the best decisions for your organization.
Communicate Early and Often
In the absence of information, innuendo and rumor fill the gap. Make sure you have the facts. If you don’t know something, avoid speculating. Be honest and say you don’t know. In a constantly evolving story and 24/7 news cycle, media will update as often as possible even if there is nothing new to report. Even if you have no updates, frequently reiterating timely accurate information helps you control the message.
Manage the Message
Developing and delivering clear consistent messages will help alleviate fear, panic and confusion. It’s imperative that your spokespeople not contradict each other. Additionally, if you decide to do something such as eliminate travel, explain why. Set up a hotline, website or multiple touch points where people can access the latest information.
Tone and Demeanor
Every time New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has addressed the public he shows concern, while speaking in a calm reassuring voice. He doesn’t sugarcoat the facts but does come across as sincere, transparent and empathetic which makes him relatable and credible.
Leading in tough times is about instilling confidence, easing fears and communicating action plans even when you don’t have all the answers. It’s also about helping others prepare for change. When a crisis subsides, leaders must gather to assess what worked, what didn’t and use those learnings as a blueprint for moving forward.
Do they need more on-line tools and technology to help people work remotely if something like this happens again? Do they need to review travel policies or expand suppliers and partners?
Leadership is about behavior. The most effective leaders are those who can adapt and communicate while a crisis is unfolding, reflect on what they’ve learned when it’s passed and implement changes to create a better future for the people they lead.