The best leaders show themselves during a crisis - Julie Moulsdale

A few days ago I collected my happy-go-lucky daughter from primary school. As soon as we were alone she burst into tears. It quickly became clear that she was sad at the thought of missing her friends in this not-so-brave new world of self-isolation.
In times of crisis, a gap in information or visibility will be filled with speculation and rumour, says MoulsdaleIn times of crisis, a gap in information or visibility will be filled with speculation and rumour, says Moulsdale
In times of crisis, a gap in information or visibility will be filled with speculation and rumour, says Moulsdale

This is a scary time for children and adults alike. At Perceptive we are very fortunate to be able to work from home, so for the moment it’s almost business as usual, at least in terms of how we interact with each other. We’ve been working remotely and flexibly since launch in 2006 and over the last few years we’ve had a blend of working from a fantastic city centre office and working remotely, including from home.

But the strong reaction from my daughter was a wake-up call that this is not as normal for most people and it got me thinking about how we could help as professional communicators.

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We certainly don’t have all the answers and this is a really scary time, not just in relation to physical and mental health but also economically, so what can you do from a communications perspective to help shield yourself and your organisation from the worst? As well as this article, we will be running a series of webinars on this.

We work with many organisations either anticipating or in a crisis. It is human nature to hunker down but the best leaders are open to be being more visible and accessible during and after a crisis. This physical and psychological display of strength is crucial in keeping employees, and indeed customers and key stakeholders, on board.

When there a gap in information or visibility, particularly when people are anxious, this vacuum will be filled with speculation and rumour, much of which could be very damaging to the organisation and, importantly, the ability to recover from the crisis.

During a crisis the leaders of the organisation will be very busy with keeping the show on the road, but if they don’t put the effort in to keeping everyone informed, they may just find themselves starring in a solo.

Don’t neglect employees

Providing sought-after information quickly and being visible is really crucial, but the best communication is two-way. Providing employees, customers and key stakeholders with a way to share their views is vital under normal circumstances but in a crisis this need explodes. In my experience, customer and key stakeholder communication channels work pretty effectively, even during crises.

The audience that is often overlooked are employees, perhaps as there is an often misjudged assumption they know as much as the senior team. But how can you communicate effectively if you don’t know how your team are feeling and what their key issues are? Back to communicating in a vacuum!

Leaders often feel uncomfortable with uncertainty, especially when they don’t have all the answers to the questions they know their employees will raise. Again, it takes a certain kind of leader to be able be visible, acknowledge the uncertainty and the fact that they don’t have all the answers. But by asking the question of employees, you gain an understanding of their key issues and can prioritise future actions and communications accordingly. It is ok to say you don’t have all the answers, so long as you live up to the promise that as soon as you do you will share them.

And if you are not a leader of an organisation, what can you do to help your organisation survive? Building new relationships and developing existing relationships is a very useful step. It isn’t easy in the current environment but it’s not impossible. We’ve been using video conferencing and going old school with the phone when before we may have sent an email. Social media tools like LinkedIn are also a great way to keep in touch and stay top of mind.

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These are very tricky times, but it is important to remember that for most of us, this will pass, even for my daughter, who will no doubt be soothed by hours of TikTok and YouTube!

- Julie Moulsdale is MD of Perceptive Communicators.

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