COVID Impact: Executive Communications.
It’s an uncertain time for business leaders. The reality of COVID-19 and the resulting imminent recession is that some corporations will simply not survive—their customer base evaporating and their share price plummeting. Other organizations will have to shrink, laying off large swaths of their workforces just to endure. Smart companies will make the most of this crisis; they will change course, grow, and adapt, guided by decisive, creative leadership looking to the future. For an executive planning out the next few years, there are countless paths to success through this crisis. Each and every one is dependent on market conditions, the nation’s economic recovery, industry, the state of public health, and a myriad of other factors. But the one constant is a need to effectively communicate to employees. Leaders have to project confidence despite the precarious state of their businesses. A successful leader must incorporate the following three traits into their interactions with their teams—traits that will instill confidence in a time of uncertainty and directly contribute to a successful recovery. Authenticity. This may be the trait most lacking in today’s corporate leadership. For employees to buy into an executive’s confidence, the executive has to show vulnerability and show that they are speaking or writing “from the heart” and based on their personal thoughts and experiences. CEOs often use stale talking points instead of simply speaking to a few key themes using personal, credible examples. Empathy. Odds are most corporate executives don’t interact with all of their team members on a daily basis. There is a gap, a space between any leadership team and the rest of the company, forged out of a different degree of authority. CEOs have to empathize with their diverse teams. They have to show they understand the anxieties and struggles of working in these unprecedented times and relate to their employees’ perspectives. Vulnerability is not a vice—showing emotion, despite what every leadership class in business school may have taught, is not an indulgence. Ignore that teaching. Relatable, genuine leadership goes a long way. Realism. Most organizations have been planning for a recession. They have a plan to navigate the economic aspects of this crisis and are beginning to execute on it. No one knows whether their plans will succeed. Employees, regardless of whether they’re decades into their career or just starting out, know that; they’re not stupid, they read the news. Executives must project optimism and confidence, but temper it with realism. Explain what the plan is and what it is designed to accomplish, but be honest about what could cause it to fail. There are many laudable traits that a leader can and should embody in the midst of this crisis: humility, inspiration, creativity. However, this is a time to be realistic: leaders should do their best to communicate the best information they have. But keeping these three key traits in mind as they craft any type of communication will serve leaders well.