As leaders we’re expected to provide clarity and comfort during uncertain moments. 

Well, we’ve got an uncertain moment, bigger than any of us could likely have ever imagined. 

How to give direction, as well as comfort and reassurance, in a time of coronavirus? When you’re not sure yourself if all the plans you’re making are going to work out as you wish them to?

You don’t need to be Churchill or Roosevelt to lead at this time. Be yourself, be authentic, and follow these tips to keep your team and customers informed. 

Whether you’re leading an employee web call, writing a customer letter, or updating the website, these ten tips will keep you connected with the audiences you need to reach.

How you show up—tone and body language

At critical moments what you say is essential, but how you say it counts for at least an equal amount.

  1. Calm, serious, logical—No panic, no wild speculation, no making light of the situation, and show the flow of your thinking. It’s okay to wish for a desired outcome but undue optimism or unsubstantiated predictions will backfire. 
  2. Empathetic, comforting, human—Good advice in crisis mode or not: put yourself in your audience’s shoes. It’s okay to acknowledge that uncertainty is frustrating. Let them know you care.
  3. Confident—As I write this there’s a flag over the Space Needle that says, “We’ve got this, Seattle.” It’s a reassurance that we will get through this that also acts as reminder to keep doing the right things.
  4. Physicality—Your body language should be informal without being too relaxed. Smile, but don’t grin. Informative “calm the troops” talks need to radiate sincerity with measured comments and physicality; “rally the troops” messages may call for bigger expression with voice and gesture. 
What you say—getting the words right
  1. Use inclusive language—Say “we” and “us,” not “you” and “I”. There will be times when the specificity of “you” and “I” is necessary, but the big picture has to reflect the organization. Let your words show that shaping a new future is a group effort. Inclusive language says “we’re in this together.”
  2. Find the wins—What is going right? If you’re shipping product, supporting customers, raising money, or feeding people, say so. Give credit: “We’re doing well working remotely together.” “We’re keeping our customers informed.” “We’re helping others.” The phrase “I’m proud of us” is one people never tire of hearing.
  3. Acknowledge uncertainty— “We’re watching the numbers, it’s not entirely clear so we are creating contingency plans.” Bridge to if/then language: it shows planning and flexibility.
  4. Share your intentions—Remind everyone of your objectives and center your activity within your mission, vision, and values. When you are transparent about why you are taking the actions you are, teams feel they are part of the plan and take more ownership. Align the actions you are taking with your goals, and see the next tip.
  5. Show action—Be specific about what you are doing, and be clear about what your listeners/readers can do. Use language like, “Here are the steps we are taking” and “Here’s what you can do.”
  6. Acknowledge sacrifice—While not everyone will get sick with COVID-19, many will. And everyone you are reaching, whether employee, customer, supplier, or otherwise, is being affected in some way, probably significantly. We’ve all given up our usual rhythms, everyone is worried about someone else, we are separated from friends and family members. And business has not gotten easier in any way, for those of us fortunate enough to still have a functioning work life. Express gratitude. Say “thank you.”

The final tip is, communicate even when there is no “new news.” People need to hear that, too. Say why you are not adding new actions, what leading indicators you are monitoring, how you are feeling about recent results. Share personal reflections and observations in addition to business thoughts. 

Crisis communications is about clarity and comfort. Frequency is your friend, reassuring your audience that you are awake, aware, and most of all, there.

Use this handy one-pager to keep these 10 Tips top-of-mind when you are writing your next memo or scripting the start of a video all-hands. Click here for a full-size version you can save and print.

Read more about the author, Bryan Rutberg.

Categories: Insight


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