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Gut Check: Are You Communicating Enough at this Critical Time?

The central leadership lesson here is obvious: the power of swift and regular communication in times of uncertainty and crisis. When you communicate swiftly, regularly and consistently as a leader, you provide clarity and reassurance to your team.

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During lockdown, I’ve continued to stay connected with clients and others in my network. Even after many days of working at home with the entire family in attendance, we are still figuring this out as we go. We are in this together.

Surprisingly, an interesting leadership insight emerged on the home front during this time.

My two sons, who attend the same university, are now studying from home.

When talk of the initial lockdown started to take place, their university took swift action. An email went out to students and parents telling them that the university was going to shut down for four days. The purpose of the shutdown was to give professors time to migrate their courses and lectures to online delivery. The university administration also decided that final exams would be done virtually as take-home exams.

My sons had immediate clarity as to what was going to happen. Once their courses started up again, they didn’t skip a beat. The only difference was that they were now at home continuing with their studies, rather than being on campus.

Now, contrast this with the experience of my daughter, who is in high school and grade 11. There was an initial brief communication saying that schools would close for three weeks, but there was little supporting information at the time. One of my daughter’s teachers attempted to move his course online but was prevented from continuing. I suspect the school board wanted a unified strategy moving forward, which makes sense. But it frustrated my daughter and her classmates.

There was still a lack of clarity regarding the way forward. There are rumors about the virtual delivery of courses,  but no clear plan has been communicated yet.

I can see the stress and anxiety this is creating for my daughter: Will there be any classes online? Will we be able to complete this academic year? Will the school year be cancelled? 

Granted, my sons, like many other college and university students, were just a few weeks away from wrapping up their academic year.  In many ways, they were a bit lucky with the timing.

Even so, it has been fascinating to observe how two institutions have responded to the same crisis in very different ways, resulting in a radically different impact on the students they serve. 

The central leadership lesson here is obvious: the power of swift and regular communication in times of uncertainty and crisis. When you communicate swiftly, regularly and consistently as a leader, you provide clarity and reassurance to your team. They are looking to you for direction. If you don’t offer it, then everyone starts to go a little squirrely.

Granted, for many of us, we are now leading from afar and working remotely. It means you need to dial up communication even more. 

If you haven’t already started, commit now. Based on my conversations with many senior leaders in my network over the past few weeks, here are the ideas they are implementing: 

  1. Bring your team together for a weekly huddle at the start of the week.  Provide an update and bring focus to the priorities of the week. 
  2. At the end of the week, send out an email or quick video summarizing the accomplishments of the week, any further corporate updates and thank everyone for their contributions. 
  3. If you hear about a rumor or any misinformation that is spreading, intervene immediately to clear things up. I’ve learned in my career that in the absence of good information, people will make up their own. And most often, it won’t be accurate. 
  4. If you don’t know the answer to an issue, say so. Help your team deal with any ambiguity you might be facing as a team or company. 
  5. Ensure that you also balance team communication with individual touchpoints. Ensure you also communicate one-on-one with your team members. 

By engaging in these steps, you will find your team’s fears and anxiety will decrease, while their focus and productivity will stay the course or even increase. Good luck!

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