The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed the world of work and life. What has not changed, however, is the need for great leadership. At GrowthPlay, we know that the most trusted leaders are focusing on five core practices to step up, lean in, and lead well:
Speak the Truth
It’s important to remember that leaders must not only inspire hope, but they also must ground us in reality, enabling teams to make informed and wise decisions. In a time of crisis, leaders need to strike a balance between not sugarcoating their message while remaining upbeat and optimistic. See this and this for additional suggestions on how to strike this balance.
There are three elements to keep in mind as you seek to speak the truth with team members, clients, and other stakeholders. Also see this great Harvard Business Review article for some additional best practices.
1 – Create honesty without alarm by keeping to the facts and avoiding emotionally charged or vague language. Specifically, words to avoid during COVID-19 include: always, never, nothing, impossible, collapsing, everything, devastated, huge, immeasurable, and deadly.
Instead of saying, “The firm is being extra cautious and planning for the possibility of a huge decline in revenue in the next twelve months,” consider replacing that forecast with factual data. “In the first 30 days of impact, we have experienced a 15% decline in hours across our firm. We do not know the exact length or depth to which clients will continue to pause work, but we are being prudent in how we are stewarding our resources and are focused on five specific actions we are taking now.”
The factual data grounds people in accurate information about the degree of impact thus far and what specifically they can expect from leadership.
2 – Use the “yes, and” technique to neutralize the negative. With its roots in improv comedy, the “yes, and” technique suggests that we accept what has already been stated and then build on that line of thinking. In the current circumstances, the “yes, and” technique acknowledges the challenges of the current circumstances and helps communicate additional information so that others can focus on what matters most or what needs to happen next.
Put in practice, the “yes, and” technique might sound like, “We know that the next several months will require both prudence and quick action, and there are three things we are asking employees to help us do to be good stewards for our firm and clients.”
3 – Finally, recognize that in the absence of information, people will “MSU” (make stuff up), so share what you know and be honest about what you don’t know. “Right now, we don’t have a clear sense of how long this will last. The estimates we are forecasting last anywhere from two weeks to five months. Therefore, we will be updating our clients and employees every week on how we are working and what new resources we are employing, and we’ll have a hotline open 24/7 for questions and immediate needs.”
As a leader in a time of crisis, frequent, short, and supportive outreach is key to helping others stay calm and confident. Be sure to stay present and hopeful as you seek to speak the truth to those you are leading.