The Words of a Leader in a Time of Crisis

March 26, 2020

By Lisë Stewart 

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This is a difficult time for business owners, partly because they are dealing with their own sense of loss and grief, at the same time that they need to be caring for and connecting with their families and their employees.  It is a heavy burden to bear.  Many of our clients are asking how they can more effectively communicate with their employees, knowing that at best, the future is precarious and at worst, some of them may lose their jobs.

These are some tips, gleaned from many successful leaders over the years that can help business owners as they navigate the challenge of working through a crisis. 

  1. Be transparent. Your people, be they family or employees, are looking for information and answers. If you try to manipulate information or tell half-truths, people can generally tell and it will diminish the trust that you have worked to build over all these years.
  2. Be honest. Share the facts as you know them. While you may not be able to share that you will be making a reduction in workforce, for many reasons, you can be honest about the fact that you will need to explore all of your options as you determine the next steps.
  3. Validate. This means to express that you know how people are feeling and what they are experiencing. Let people know that you understand how difficult this is – that they are worried about their families, their health, their future and their finances. Don’t sugar-coat the message and try to deny that people are frightened or worried. Don’t brush aside these concerns. Instead, validate their experience and perhaps share some of your own emotions. Sometimes admitting your own concerns and vulnerabilities actually builds trust and draws people closer.
  4. Inspire. Rather than just concentrating on the current crisis, begin the process of looking for opportunities to rebuild, rebrand, regenerate. Share your ideas and vision with your team members, letting them know that rather than running scared, you are looking toward the future and what can be done to get the business back on track. Your employees are looking to you for vision and guidance.
  5. Connect. Reach out to individuals. Don’t rely just on group emails. An individual message of hope, a brief phone call will go a long way to building a sense of connection and loyalty that might encourage employees to work a little harder or to come back to the organization once things have settled down. Right now, compassion is one of our most effective tools in our toolbox.
  6. Communicate. Make sure that you are sharing information on a regular basis – even if you think that your people have heard it before. Send out new facts, examples, links to informational webinars or other information. Hearing from one’s leader is important in times of crisis. Your team will want to know where you are getting your information, what you are learning and what you are doing.
  7. Examine. Look to your own and your family’s values for inspiration. This will be a time for introspection and realignment. If one of your values is contributing to your local community, then make sure that you and your family are doing that and let your team know about your efforts and how this supports the values that you have tried to share. When things begin to look better, business owners are going to want to share the brightest stories from this experience. What are the bright stories and positive memories that you are creating that will last as examples of your values at work?
  8. Finally, Strategize. When the clouds finally shift and we can begin to see a bit of blue sky, how will you be poised to take full advantage of the existing landscape? Perhaps you can explore business loans, new services or products, new supply chains, acquisition opportunities or outside investor relationships. Starting to plan now will help you to be in the very best position possible when the sun comes out tomorrow!

OUR CURRENT ISSUE OF RISE (Real Ideas to Stimulate Engagement)

About Lisë Stewart

Lisë Stewart is Principal-in-Charge of EisnerAmper’s Center for Individual and Organizational Performance and the Center for Family Business Excellence within the Private Business Services Practice. Lisë has experience in organizational development, strategic planning and training, and human performance management.