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8 Powerful Phrases Leaders Need to Say in a Time of Crisis

Alireza Kohany explains... Harness the power of communication to lead during the darkest times.

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Does this quote accurately reflect the current state of affairs during the global crisis and economic shutdown?

“…by all accounts, this recession is the severest since the Great Depression. The wave of bad economic news is eroding confidence and buying power, driving consumers to adjust their behavior in fundamental and perhaps permanent ways.”

That could have been written yesterday, but it’s actually from a 2009 article in Harvard Business Review entitled How to Market in a Downturn.

As an entrepreneur, I experienced firsthand the economic fallout after the dot-com crash in the late nineties as well as the downturns after the terrorist attacks of 9-11 and the real estate and banking crisis of 2008. However, I’ve never seen anything like what we’re currently experiencing.

It’s at times like these that leadership is needed more than ever. Here are eight powerful messages of hope entrepreneurs can communicate to employees, customers, and partners as we weather this global pandemic:

  1. You are understood.
    Your team, customers, and partners want to know you are aware of and empathetic to their worries. They want to know that you believe their concerns are valid.
  2. You are safe.
    Everything is under control, you are doing everything in your power to protect employees and their families.
  3. You are remembered.
    Don’t let team members feel left behind or out of the loop. Remind them that we’re all in this together.
  4. It will work out.
    In his book The Power Principle: Influence With Honor, the late Blaine Lee explained how captured soldiers who survived brutal treatment in prisoner of war camps often spoke of repeating to themselves the thought “I will get out, I will get out.” Interestingly, those who said they would get out by a certain date or event, such as “I will be home by Christmas,” succumbed to sickness and death at higher rates than those who said, “I don’t know when I will get out, but I will survive and get out someday.”
  5. Here are the facts.
    As leaders, we’re often afraid to share too much for fear everyone will jump ship. The opposite tends to be true: more transparency increases trust and inspires loyalty. As Harvard Business School professor Dr. John P. Kotter explained in his business classic, Leading Change, sharing important information, even if and perhaps especially if it’s frightening, can provide a sense of urgency that motivates your team to make difficult yet necessary decisions.
  6. Here’s the plan.
    Although facts are helpful, those you lead also want to know what your plan is. Your plan may only be that you’re going to get everyone together and come up with a plan. That’s ok, it’s still a plan.
  7. Good will come from this.
    In Man’s Search for Meaning, author and holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl showed that even during the worst of times we can feel hope. However, in order to have hope, we must find meaning or purpose in the challenges we face. We must take something bad and turn it into something good.
  8. You are loved.
    Customers, partners, and your team are more likely to follow you if they know you truly care about them. We’re all afraid of being abandoned when times get tough, but when we know someone cares about our well being we trust they’ll stick with us, even if it doesn’t make immediate economic sense.

Great leadership requires authenticity
Only use these messages to the extent you can do so truthfully. For example, don’t tell someone “Everything is under control, nothing bad will happen to you,” if you’re not sure that’s the case. Otherwise, when it’s proven things are not under control you will lose your credibility and these messages will no longer be as powerful when you use them.

Are you using these messages in your business, or have you seen other leaders using them? I’d love to hear your story.

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