When there is uncertainty, it’s natural to seek certainty. As we navigate the challenges of COVID-19 together, it can be helpful to think about past leaders you admire who have navigated extraordinarily difficult times – yet managed to leave a positive lasting impact on the world.
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 Centers for Disease Control, “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 what 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,” reported McKinsey.
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 1-to-1 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.
“You are reaching out in a genuine and honest way to make human connections and help if you can,” advised 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, talk straight about the current reality and the path forward to overcome the challenges.
We are 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 the things that can be controlled. These are all healthy ways to move forward. McKinsey calls this strategy “bounded optimism,” or confidence combined with realism.
We are not living in the times of business as usual, yet we can all “keep calm and carry on.”