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Strong leaders know how to communicate in difficult times

The corona virus has created absolute havoc; and it is showing no signs of going away. Businesses will continue to bleed, some more than the others. Every time I have spoken to industry leaders in the last few weeks, I have heard concern in their voices. These are uncertain times, globally. Its not easy to announce salary cuts or worse to let go of colleagues, some of them high performers, simply because the business can no longer support their financial costs. So, how should a business leader lead at a time like this?

Here are 10 things to consider.

1. At times like this the business leaders need to explain what all this means in context of their specific organisation and functions. It is important to break it down to how this impacts their products and services, employees, partners and communities. As a leader, what your team expects in times like this is simply the truth. Its ok to share all that you know and all that you don’t know. Its ok to share vulnerabilities. This is not the time for machismo. It’s the time to share honestly that businesses have suffered unforeseen losses and that has both short and long term impact.

2. The cornerstone of any leadership speak during a crisis is empathy. A leader who can do so by looking into their eyes will be heard and have the team’s understanding. It is therefore of paramount importance that you don’t share bad news through an email, or get your HR team to break the bad news. Stand in front of them, or at least in front of a camera, and say your message to the entire organisation. Understandably you cannot travel to every office, every shop floor personally now.

3. Messaging is key. While HR, legal and corporate communication will have a very important role in crafting the message, keep a little bit of you in the message. Let it be a message from you and not a corporate holding statement.

4. Your body language is crucial. Don’t choose a happy background, look into their eyes or directly into the camera, don’t throw in a joke…not even a dark one. Please don’t dress up to your sharpest best. Certainly not frumpy either. Be honest, be empathetic, keep it short and crisp. Do not read out of a device or cue cards.

5. You still need to look and demonstrate decisive leadership. Close the message with a clear sign that you already have or are working on a plan for business recovery.

6. When you are letting people go it’s a little pointless to tell them that ‘we will get through this together’ or that ‘we are a family’. They don’t want to hear that. Thank them with genuine gratitude for their contribution, when their family member was unwell yet they turned up at work, when they stayed up all night fixing something that broke, for all those small and big things.

7. Find real ways to help, if you can. Things like a, personal letter of recommendation or your word into the network that there are people looking for work, will go a long way.

8. For the employees who are staying back, it is important that you are seen as a fair and just leader who was compelled to take some tough calls. In a separate message you will need to lay clear guidelines of safety protocol, WFH guidelines and most importantly, gradual business recovery. Make them part of the solution.

9. This is not a one-time communication; you will need to go back to them repeatedly.

10. Lastly remember, your message will not be contained only to your internal employees and partners. It will be seen and heard in global platforms, courtesy social media. It’s important to remember the world will be watching you.

Stay safe.

Radha Roy
(Communication Specialist, Story Teller, Reputation Custodian)

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