Leadership Communication During Crisis – 5 Tips

Leadership Communication During Crisis – 5 Tips
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Leadership Communication During Crisis Is Vital

We know from leadership simulation assessment data that keeping people informed during a crisis is one of the most visible and important roles of a leader.  In difficult times, it is natural for people to look toward Senior Leadership for answers and comfort.  As ambiguity increases, fear and doubt can spread across organizations and grind productivity and employee engagement to a halt.

The Impact of Ineffective Communication During Crisis
No company or leader is immune to crises.  If leaders and organizations do not adequately prepare for and effectively respond to crisis, they risk incurring and creating more harm. Ineffective communication during crisis most often leads to:

  • Customer confusion, frustration, and abandonment
  • Operational silos, process inefficiencies, cultural misalignment, and workflow breakdowns
  • Employee disengagement, under-performance, and attrition
  • Strategic ambiguity, conflict, and dilution
  • Financial, legal, and reputational uncertainty and risk

Tips for Leadership Communication During Crisis
The higher up you are in an organization, the more you are expected to stay on top of the situation, understand and manage ambiguity, communicate facts, and discuss implications.  Follow these tips for communicating effectively as a leader during crisis:

  1. Be Vulnerable
    The best leaders during tough times know their limitations, are humble, and adjust course when necessary.  They are honest about the facts, admit to mistakes, involve others, and ask for help. They know that being vulnerable as a leader does not equate to being weak; it signals confidence, courage, and trustworthiness.
  2. Put Yourself in Your People’s Shoes
    Your first task is to start with a clear view of who your audience is and what you want to accomplish with them.  Especially during a crisis, the better you understand what your audience cares most about and why, the more likely you are to achieve your desired outcomes.

    For example, no one is interested in talking about the company’s strategic vision if they are worried about losing their jobs or running out of toilet paper. Once individual core concerns are adequately addressed, you can focus on getting aligned around common goals and an immediate plan of attack.

  3. Tell People What You Know So Far
    Your next step as a leader during crisis is to meet people where they are by understanding and clearly communicating the context of the immediate situation, the key complications that you and your people face, and the major implications.

    The immediate situation sets the stage and is the starting point for your message.  The complications demonstrate your understanding of the issues, challenges, and pressures that you, your team, and your organization face.  And the implications highlight the consequences of failing to act properly.

    Too many leaders wait until they have all the facts and have made all the key decisions before letting their teams know what is going on.  That is a mistake; leaders need to lead.  Silence from Senior Leaders rarely gets filled in with positive, accurate, or helpful information.

  4. Tell People What You Do Not Know
    In times of a rapidly evolving crisis especially, leaders rarely have all the information or answers.  Do not be afraid to share what you do not know so far.  Acknowledging what is still unknown builds credibility.

    Not admitting that you still need to learn more and share more information at a later date undermines trust in leadership.

  5. Tell People When You Can Fill In the Gaps
    Lastly, be honest about when and how you will be able to fill in the important gaps and address key problems that you are still working on solving.  Communicate progress frequently, even if not much has changed, so that people know you are actively trying to make progress.  In sharing your next steps, be as specific and tangible as possible.
  6. Take Concrete Action
    Strategies are executed, leaders are defined, and cultures are reinforced by a series of often small concrete actions and moments of truth.  A crisis typically creates a greater sense of urgency, clearer priorities, and well understood constraints – all important ingredients for change.  For example,  when your house is on fire, your first priority is getting everyone out of the house safely.

    During a crisis, employees yearn for more than platitudes and promises.  They want specific advice, instructions, and actions.   As a leader, make sure that you are walking beside your people and taking meaningful actions to make things better.

The Bottom Line
In times of crisis, it is imperative that leaders listen to, empathize with, and motivate their teams to come out stronger on the other side.  That takes courage, clarity, communication, and compassion.  Are your leaders equipped to communicate effectively during a crisis?

To learn more about leadership communication during crisis, download Winning Communication Strategies for Virtual and Remote Teams

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