COVID-19: Be a leader in times of crisis

The unknown peril of COVID-19 is only heaping more stress onto an already stressed workforce. With the virus actively changing the way we live our day-to-day lives, there’s never been a more important time for leaders to step up within their respective companies and apply time-tested principles for dealing with any crisis: Open, honest, clear, and timely communications to build trust and demonstrate capable leadership. If you’re trying to figure out how to communicate COVID-19 to your employees or colleagues, here’s how to do that in a way that instills trust and a sense of calmness.

Coronavirus - COVID-19: How to be a leader in times of crisis
Coronavirus – COVID-19: How to be a leader in times of crisis

Rely on experts to strengthen your voice: An effective crisis strategy begins by separating charged emotions from facts and data. One of the best ways to amplify expertise and convey calm is to leverage other voices of authority. Review reliable information about the virus from national sources such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and local sources such as state or county health departments and pass this information on to employees. 

Use this opportunity to highlight preparedness: Early employee communications should highlight key elements of the existing plan. This helps support the less tangible psychological and emotional needs of an organization in four ways. 1) It takes pressure off of leaders to act extemporaneously under pressure, 2) demonstrates forethought and competence, 3) conveys ongoing care for well-being the workplace, and 4) provides order in a time that feels chaotic.

Coronavirus - COVID-19: How to be a leader in times of crisis
Coronavirus – COVID-19: How to be a leader in times of crisis

Build community: Be sure to address the human toll a crisis takes. Issue a morning message or video from the CEO. Establish times when employees can virtually convene for a meditation or living-room yoga session. Make sure to publicize any existing employee resources, such as mental health hotlines, on-site social workers, or corporate chaplains, to address people’s stress. Show that the workplace is also a community that looks out for each other.

Solicit feedback: Listen to your people. Consider what assurances employees need to feel safe at work and at home—and show that you’re actively working to incorporate that feedback into your action plan.

Be willing to throw some rules out: Some rules don’t make sense in times of crisis. Communicate your willingness to work with people and to advocate for them during this time of stress. They will remember this long after the crisis has ended.

Show your work: Even in a fast-moving crisis, take the time to convene various stakeholders for their feedback. Document your decision-making. Ask people in your organization to be ambassadors by channeling information upstream and down. Be prepared to answer questions and explain your choices.

Emphasize passion over persuasion: Crises are not solved with reason and data alone. Recognize, your employees are first and foremost human. They have families and lives outside of work that are deeply important to them. By leading with empathy, you demonstrate dedication to employees as whole people.