Crisis Leadership: Trust & Communication
In times of crisis, human beings tend to seek guidance and comfort from their leadership. True leaders must guide with empathy, communicate clearly, and stay focused on the goals that give us purpose every day. This must happen from the top down. Where there is a leadership void, uncertainty and fear rush in. Left unchecked, this can result in panic, disorder, and – taken to its extreme – chaos. On March 25, GLG held a Remote Roundtable on the topic of Crisis Leadership with Davia Temin, an experienced marketing, media and reputation strategist, crisis manager, and leadership and communications coach. Summarized here are the main takeaways.
Honest and Human Leadership
Honesty isn’t always easy, especially when bad news can hit hard. But it’s up to a true leader to be a human, trusted voice to the general public, employees, and shareholders in a time of crisis. The leader tends to represent the greater the larger whole, you need to be the aware of how your present yourself in every situation.
Crises have a way of escalating, and humans tend to deny the situation even as it comes to a head. Leaders must admit what is going on and start to apply logic to your business and move forward.
Leadership means assuming the mantle of responsibility, even if that means adding to your own stress. The leader needs to absorb the anxiety of those around them, and then project a calm collected and knowledgeable voice. True leadership emerges “if you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs.”
There will be bad news. Leaders need to be transparent and deliver it with an extra overlay of humanity. Timing is important though. If possible, wait to have the most difficult discussions after the crisis has peaked and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
In times of extreme crisis, it’s impossible to manage everybody’s fear. Fear works differently in different people. Cognition can shut down when people are anxious, so leaders shouldn’t assume that their teams will respond as they usually do. This might mean delivering the same message over and over in different ways to reach everyone.
Leadership trickles down. You can’t solve every problem and will have to deputize your team to keep the ship moving at even keel. Start each day with a briefing call with your core team to give critical updates, check in with each leader and model listening, then align on which messages are the most important to be passing on to the team, client and other stakeholders. Have as many check ins as needed.
Laser Focus on Purpose
Individuals in times of crisis tend to lose sight of what is easy to see in better times. When a leader communicates with their team, they need to remind them of their goals giving meaning to activities that often seem increasingly irrelevant. Every communication should start with a mission/purpose statement. How can each member work toward that purpose? If it’s not contributing to that end, this will help determine which work should be prioritized and what can be postponed.
Select Questions from the Roundtable
How do we go about customer engagement sensitively during this period?
Your messaging should always come from a place of help, support, and thought leadership. The smartest companies have already made this part of their DNA. Customers seldom respond to a sales pitch or a blatant marketing campaign even in normal times, even les so now. Currently, it’s all about tone. Ask how they are doing; how can you support and help them. Are there products, a knowledge base, support and/or information they don’t already have access to? Now is your time to be a true partner.
How can we as leaders respectfully enforce order amid chaos?
If you are a leader who normally calls for order and discipline, now is probably the time to loosen structure and be more flexible and compassionate. But, If you are traditionally flexible/relaxed, now is the time to be more disciplined and formulaic to get the center to hold amid chaos. Every leader needs a balance of warmth and competence to create trust. If are too warm you may be perceived as incompetent. If you are overly competent, you may be perceived as cold.
Research shows that people accept statements much better if there is some explanation as to why you are making that statement. There needs to be a still point in the turning world. Explain why you need to have more/less discipline with humanity.
If you a colleague falls ill and is lost during this time, how can you address this within the company?
This is never easy, even in better times. They key is to spend time taking about the person who is gone and everything they have done for the company. It’s essentially a mourning process, a person we see or interact with every day, and people will need to grieve, as executives, we need to double our efforts to channel pain, sadness, and fear into good work so we can be part of the solution for those we have lost, and to give others a process for working through their own feelings. Tone is incredibly important here; it should feel right. We continually think about authentic leadership, but now more than ever is when authenticity is critical and timely.
About Davia Temin
Davia Temin is a highly experienced marketing, media and reputation strategist, crisis manager, and leadership and communications coach. She is currently President and CEO of Temin and Company, a boutique management consultancy she founded in 1997, she leads their practice focused on international crisis, reputation, and risk management, with a specialty in cybersecurity, sexual harassment, and securities-related crisis management. Prior to this Davia, led Corporate Marketing for GE Capital; Schroders; Scudder, Stevens and Clark; Citicorp Investment Bank; and Columbia Business School.
This article is adapted from GLG’s March 25 Remote Roundtable “Crisis Leadership: Trust & Communication.”