How you lead during the Coronavirus pandemic will leave a lasting legacy with your staff, your clients or customers and everyone you have business dealings with. Make sure that legacy is positive.
If you want to make sure you come through this with your reputation enhanced and key relationships stronger than ever you need to be honest, communicate directly whenever possible and use emotional intelligence to guide what you say and do.
Communication is more important than ever
The challenges faced by leaders are huge as things change almost by the day and not even the experts are able to predict with any certainty how long this crisis will go on or what the long-term effects on society and the economy will be. Leaders, like everyone else, are being bombarded with often conflicting advice from scientists and other experts. Reassurance given by the Prime Minister on one day can be contradicted by orders from government the day after, with huge repercussions for businesses.
The only good thing about this is that your staff know you don’t have all the answers so there’s no point in pretending that you do! Make sure you tell them that you’re acting on the best information you have at this particular time and prepare them for the fact that things may change as the situation develops. Above all, reassure them that you’re taking every precaution to protect their health – and make sure that you are!
Regular communication is crucial, particularly as many employees may be working from home and will quickly start to feel out of the loop. Milennials in particular will be missing the social side of work, and now they can’t even see their friends at the pub or the gym.
Capitalise on what technology has to offer. You may not be able to communicate face to face, but do use Zoom , Google Hangout or other video conferencing methods regularly and make sure there is a forum in which people can ask you questions.
Boris Johnson’s daily press conferences are a great model –
- get the two or three relevant people on a platform,
- give the messages you need to give as succinctly and reassuringly as possible, explaining why you are taking the decisions you have taken,
- allow enough time for questions to cover most of the points you expect people will want to raise. Your employees can submit questions in advance or via live chat or email.
Use your EQ as well as your IQ
Be sensitive and kind. If you know that you don’t have much emotional intelligence, make sure you’re taking advice from someone has plenty. Bear in mind that your staff are also experiencing great uncertainty in their personal as well as their professional lives. They are likely to be more frightened, sensitive and emotional than usual. They may be worried about their own health as well as concerned for those they love. Someone close to them may be in hospital or dying. They may be afraid of losing their jobs and their income. The way they live their lives will have changed radically in a very short space of time. Daily news from around the globe means they know things are going to get lot worse before they get better and may be generating a sense of panic.
Your leadership may be the only constant and they need to believe you have their interests at heart, as well as those of the business. They will want to know that you’re accessing all the support the Chancellor has offered to keep your business afloat and to continue to employ as many of them as possible. The hotel chain that sacked its staff and made them immediately homeless in one heartless letter couldn’t have got it more wrong. This will not only affect their ability to recruit in the future but is also causing a backlash from their potential customers as the story goes viral on social media.
Make sure your executive team are involved in decisions
In a fast-moving situation where multiple decisions need to be taken as you react swiftly to events, it is crucial that you keep your executive team up to speed and that they get the chance to input into decisions that will affect the future of the business. They too will be having to field constant questions and bolster their teams. They need to fully understand what’s going on and why. You should be meeting at least once a day, possibly more – again I recommend video conference. There’s something about being able to see people’s faces and reactions. Extended conference calls are often a frustrating and negative experience. Everyone will be in action mode, but it’s important to take time to brainstorm and to think of how you can adapt your business model to help you get through this crisis. Make sure this happens as widely as possible – good ideas can come from anywhere. There could be opportunities you’ve never thought of before and you need to tap into the brain power and creativity of your team. Everyone will want to do all they can to keep the business afloat so your staff will be highly motivated to help develop solutions to what might seem like some intractable problems.
Look after yourself
Last but definitely not least, look after yourself. The business needs you more than ever and you are going to need resilience and strength. Do not sacrifice you own physical or mental health. Eat well, get exercise and try to make sure you have some downtime. Do whatever you need to do to relax before bed – I recommend watching an episode of your favourite comedy, it may be the only time you laugh that day. And remember, whatever you do will be modelled by those you work with so if you look after yourself, you will be looking after all those who work with you too.
This too shall pass
However long this pandemic lasts, it will eventually be over. The challenge for leaders is how to balance reacting to short term developments whilst planning for the long term. For once all your competitors are in the same boat. The differentiating factor could well be the way you behave towards your employees, supply chain, clients or customers during these difficult times. That will be remembered long after scientists have found a cure or a vaccine for Covid-19.