By Paul Raggio
Co-owner, One True North
In moments of great, societal peril, I think of Gen. Dwight Eisenhower talking to the 101st Airborne before the Screaming Eagles climbed into their C-47 aircraft with orders to jump into Normandy.
Certainly, Ike knew many would not survive the jump, and many more would perish in the ground battle that would follow.
This didn’t stop him from seeing his paratroopers, nor communicating the importance of the mission and how much he cared for the men. Historical films show him walking among the troopers the evening before D-Day, talking, laughing, patting them on their shoulders and backs, providing words of encouragement, and on occasion, a hug. He was saying something to them, but not just anything. Words, yes, but so much more.
It was his presence and vision that calmed the troops, allowing them to release pent up anxiety, permission to expose their fear, and a chance to revel in a world to come because of their doing. He gave them a purpose. This is what leaders communicate in times of crisis.
Lisa and I have conducted several presentations via webinars since the pandemic hit. They covered leadership and best business practices and how to cope with the fallout caused by the pandemic. In each of these presentations, we emphasized the importance of leaders communicating clear, direct, purposeful, and inspirational messages to their family, team, customers, and any other stakeholders they come in contact with. Right now, leaders should be delivering informative, upbeat, and inspirational messages that calm and reassure their constituents that we will get through this together, projecting an enduring vision of growth and prosperity, and most importantly, giving them purpose.
We’re halfway through the COVID-19 marathon. The future is brightening. Two very promising vaccines with ninety percent plus efficacy are staged for FDA emergency approval. Distribution and dispensing of the vaccines are feasible by the end of the year. Nevertheless, vaccinating the public at large is likely several months away. Plan on late spring or early summer before we will be in a new normal.
The holidays are upon us, and temptations for in-person gatherings abound. Leaders’ words and actions are being watched and tested. For some, hypocrisy exists, and followers note many leaders say one thing and do quite the other.
A crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic is a time when you must show up as a leader and demonstrate your company’s values by what and how you communicate. Organizations that handle crisis communications well are proactive in their messaging and regularly connect with their internal and external audiences. Now is not a time to be silent nor create your messages by default. Better to error on the side of over-communicating than not. Take time first to examine your intentions, get clear on your “Why?” regarding what you want to say, and then add doses of positivity, passion, and enthusiasm to inspire solutions. On a routine basis, communicate these purposeful messages to all your team, including staff, customers, clients, suppliers, stakeholders, networks, strategic alliances and partnerships.
Communication isn’t just words; it’s actions, too. Importantly, practice what you preach and lead by example. Like many other crises in the past, COVID-19 has the potential to bond more of us around common causes. We can look to our faith-based, service, and nonprofit organizations and ask what they need and how we can help and encourage and unite our teams and audiences to get engaged and make a difference to those in need. Think about our collective impact, and remember we are all in this together, one team, one fight, one mission, with the purpose to survive COVID-19 physically, mentally and economically.
If you are like us, you’ve adapted to this virtual environment, learning new words and activities like zoom, go-to, webinars, webcasts, WebEx and the like — all in pursuit of remotely engaging our stakeholders and customers.
This virtual environment is the new normal and probably a permanent change in the way we do business. Why not consider this an opportunity and fresh approach to promote your business? If your company has vision, mission, purpose and points of culture statements, now is the time to update and revise them. Then message and reinforce these statements in your virtual meetings and conference calls and on your emails, social media, direct mailers and newsletters. If your business hasn’t developed these essential commitment statements, take the time and do so now, it will be imperative when you arrive at the new normal.
During this time of crisis and uncertainty, be that leader through your virtual presence that says something, but not just anything! Calm your followers. Allow them to release pent up anxiety. Give them a vision and purpose. Permit them to expose their fear and let them revel in a world to come because of their doing. This is what a leader communicates in times of crisis.
Now, let’s get after it!
Paul A. Raggio is co-owner, with his sister Lisa, of One True North INC Leadership and Business Coaching Solutions. One True North is located at 28494 Westinghouse Place, Suite 209, Valencia 91355. The phone number is (661) 309-9048.