What was it in their approach that caused them to be so effective?
The answer can be distilled into three important traits: excellent communications, a human connection and striking the right tone. Weaving these three elements together helped them — and can help all of us — provide guidance and meaning through difficult times.
This pandemic is new, but crises have always existed. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Communicating in a crisis is different. In a serious crisis, all affected people take in information differently, process information differently, and act on information differently. As a leader, you need to know that the way you normally communicate with your community may not be effective during — and after — it suffers a crisis.”
Whether you are a leader of people or simply a respected colleague, the “ability to find meaning in negative events and to learn from even the most trying circumstances” is one of the most reliable indicators and predictors of true leadership, according to new research from the Harvard Business Review.
So how do we proceed? Here is what our research found:
1. Communicate early and often. The COVID-19 pandemic is occurring in real time, and even as it develops around us, regular communications are key to sharing the information as it becomes available. Specifically: clarity, transparency and consistent communications are vital for us all.
“Thoughtful, frequent communication shows that leaders are following the situation and adjusting their responses as they learn more,” reports McKinsey, the global management consultancy.
2. Get personal. Like all of us, your colleagues and clients are understandably experiencing stress and anxiety. During the times of social distancing, connection on a human-to-human level is more important than ever. Whether speaking one-on-one or addressing a large group, your eye contact, sincerity and facial expressions make a real difference. Now is a great time to get comfortable with a new technology so you can make a connection virtually.
As we communicate through the crisis, we should aim for clarity, professionalism and helpfulness. The simple act of sincerely listening to your colleagues is crucial. Seek to understand what they’re experiencing, and particularly try to understand what is working well and where are they facing challenges.
“You are reaching out in a genuine and honest way to make human connections and help if you can,” advises sales trainer Colleen Francis. “No matter the response you receive from your outreach, be serious and respectful and show empathy. Whether it’s ‘all systems go’ or ‘leave us alone’ — work together to understand what your next steps are in helping their business and being a resource.”
3. Set the tone, listen hard and talk straight. As we communicate through the crisis, we should aim for clarity, professionalism and helpfulness.
The simple act of sincerely listening to your colleagues is crucial. Seek to understand what they’re experiencing, and particularly try to understand what is working well and where are they facing challenges.
After carefully listening, it is imperative to respond with both compassion and candor. If the pandemic is creating obstacles in certain areas of your business, be straightforward about the current reality and the path you expect to take to overcome the challenges.
We live in uncertain times, but the good news is that we are not without resources and options. We can take positive steps, use new technologies and control what can be controlled. These are all healthy ways to move forward. McKinsey calls this strategy “bounded optimism,” or confidence combined with realism.
Business may be anything but usual, but we can all keep calm and carry on.