One of the lessons that aspiring leaders often hear during their formal schooling is,
“No one will care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
As companies worldwide begin the process of grappling fully with the effects of the Coronavirus, these words are more true than ever before.
Hard Numbers Need to Wait
There is no doubt that the bottom line for nearly all businesses will suffer significantly. There is no question that supply chains and delivery of needed items that are important to the business will be disrupted.
Without question, the cash reserves and long-term profitability of the business will suffer tremendously; and, with all of those pressures and difficulties for which leaders are ultimately responsible, when communicating with team members the hard numbers and business realities will need to wait.
Show Your Heart, First & Often
This moment calls for a response from the leader that makes mention of none of the hard business realities that weigh so heavily on the organization which you are charged to lead. Because of the potentially life-threatening health risks, the response to one’s team members must focus fully on the compassion that you as the leader will demonstrate to them. Such communication must contain heartfelt messages of caring, sympathy, and empathy for those who are directly and peripherally impacted.
This message from the leader must contain the truth and provide hope, but most of all it must include all the compassion and empathy that a leader can convey.
To all that depend on this particular organization, and you the leader, for their livelihood and for the well-being of their family the message must reassure and comfort. At this moment, repeated communication regarding the manner in which team members will be supported and accommodated as their children’s schools are closed and they are required to distance themselves socially from those they love is the leader’s most effective strategy.
Uncertainty about what happens next will certainly generate questions from your team members about the next steps, modifications, and adjustments to the workplace. After the multiple carefully crafted messages that clearly illustrate the level of caring from the leadership for the team members, the next step will be the extra-carefully crafted messages regarding expectations for team members moving forward.
Get a Second Pair of Eyes
Because such communications are very likely to be written or recorded, the leader is at the distinct disadvantage of not being able to “read the room” and unable to judge how the messages are being received. In a time where the leader can be certain that with a misplaced phrase, a poorly chosen bit of humor, or a sentence that has an unclear meaning, those receiving the message will be inclined to “fill in with the worst-case interpretation”.
The care with which such messages are crafted is extremely important. The last place a leader wants to be in such a crisis is to be perceived as uninformed, ignorant, uncaring, or simply out of touch with the needs of their team members. Taking time to have messages carefully proofed is essential. Having trusted colleagues read the communications for what the underlying meaning might be perceived to be, is a must.
Most important of all making sure that messages begin and end with authentic words of understanding and empathy, is critical!
Strive for Your Finest Moment
As leaders, we do not know when we will be called upon to be a beacon of hope to those we lead. In fact, such moments might not emerge for decades and people may pass through leadership roles never having to deal with such an extraordinary circumstance. In very challenging and in some cases dire moments, when the very health of those we love may be threatened, leaders must look beyond the bottom line and the quarterly balance sheet to a level of service and empathy that one may have not yet been called upon to deliver.
Rising to the challenge, being clear and kind in your words, speaking the truth, and giving hope to those in your charge, may in the course of an entire career, prove to be your finest moment.
Author, Speaker, and Change Agent.
Chris leads a dynamic team of passionate change agents who are dedicated to partnering with organizational executives to create cultures that inspire, engage and ignite the best in people. Our work is dedicated to harnessing the power of culture to equip leaders, build amazing teams and align operation practices to delighting the customer and drive breakthrough results.