In the first few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, the best leaders were those who communicated with employees with empathy, truth and frequency. Our advice to clients in the early days was the same as it would be in any crisis. Communicate with:
Empathy: Acknowledge fear and let your employees know you’re thinking about the same things they are thinking about. Speaking from the heart goes a long way to maintaining trust with your team.
Truth: Even if the truth is scary or uncertain, speak it. This is not a time for motivation, but a time for leadership. People handle bad news much better than no news or untruths, especially when you share the why behind certain decisions.
Frequency: You cannot over-communicate. Increase your touchpoints with employees. Be visible and accessible, whatever that looks like in a social-distance-appropriate way.
As the crisis begins to span from weeks into possibly months, it’s important not only to continue communicating with empathy, truth and frequency, but also, as leaders, evolving our communications to the next level. Even when you don’t have all the answers, employees are looking to you to guide them through the current situation.
As you work to keep your business intact and your employees connected, focus on:
Checking in vs. checking up: Emphasize outcomes, not hours. Check in with employees on how they’re doing, not what they’re doing. Clearly communicate the goals and deliverables, but give grace on how and when it gets done.
Showing up vs. shining: Most leaders strive to look buttoned up and to have all the answers before they address employees. But in times like this, that’s just not realistic. Don’t focus on scripting your communication; focus on being real, but being in control. Leaders can be uncertain, but they cannot be unclear.
Don’t lose the big picture, expand it: In times of sustained change and uncertainty, leaders must not only face reality, they must define it. That means ensuring that you’re looking beyond the current crisis to what will happen afterward.
Winston Churchill famously said, “Never waste a good crisis.” Use this time to rethink what’s important and where you want to take the business in the future. And communicate your vision to your employees.
It’s also been said that crises can lead to new innovations, so unleash your team’s creativity to look beyond the current challenges and come out on the other side much stronger.
The way you communicate in times of crisis will define your leadership. Be intentional, and you will get to the other side with new perspectives on your leadership.
Want to learn more about how to hone your leader communication skills? Let’s talk.