It is in a crisis that leaders show their mettle. The New York Times notes,
The master class on how to respond [to a crisis] belongs to Jacinda Ardern, the 39-year-old prime minister of New Zealand. On March 21, when New Zealand still had only 52 confirmed cases, she told her fellow citizens what guidelines the government would follow in ramping up its response. Her message was clear: “These decisions will place the most significant restrictions on New Zealanders’ movements in modern history. But it is our best chance to slow the virus and to save lives.” And it was compassionate: “Please be strong, be kind and united against Covid-19.”
Our political leaders’ responses to the current COVID-19 crisis are particularly instructive about how leaders should act in a crisis:
- Lead from the front. Initiate quick, bold, and responsible action, even when it carries political risk. Don’t be overcome by panic.
- Think the crisis through. Weigh your options carefully, and then make the call confidently. Stay focused. Don’t let stress impede your problem-solving capabilities.
- Avert an information vacuum. Any gap in the available information will be filled by guesswork and speculation.
- Provide an accurate picture of what’s going on. Be transparent and honest right from the beginning. Acknowledging the gravity of the situation and being clear about how you’re going to collectively address the crisis leaves your constituencies with a sense of confidence in your message.
- Choose your words carefully. Don’t create a false sense of security. Avoid making throwaway comments that might be misconstrued.
- Communicate often. Fine-tune your message. Update your analysis and reaffirm your assurance of support. Keeping everyone in the loop diffuses fears and uncertainties.
- Empower employees to be part of the solution. Invite and respond to employees’ feedback and concerns. They’ll need to know they’re being heard.
Idea for Impact: When a crisis hits, constituencies fall back on their leaders for information, answers, confidence, and direction. Set the appropriate tone for the organizational response by being supportive, factual, transparent, open-minded, calm, and decisive.