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Here’s looking at you, leaders.

A crisis is no time to hide. In fact, right now, leaders should be more visible than ever. Our Head of Communications, Lily Carlyon, offers her advice for communicating while navigating the storm.

A crisis is no time to hide. In fact, right now, leaders should be more visible than ever. Our Head of Communications, Lily Carlyon, offers her advice for communicating while navigating the storm.

In a world where people are being tackled to the ground over the last loo roll and rushing to Woolies to buy every canned product ever manufactured, people are looking for clarity and guidance on how to make it through. And research shows we’re all looking to our employers to provide it. 

In early March, PR agency Edelman carried out research that found people have more trust in the information that they’re getting from their employers about COVID-19 than what’s being provided from the media or government. 

This is a huge responsibility for business leaders to shoulder and it’s critical that they rise to the occasion. Leaders need to communicate — often, openly and in a way that allows people to understand both the good and the bad of what the business is going through. 

This isn’t always easy. It’s hard to know what to communicate, how much to share, what channels to use and how often you should be talking. While every business is different, there are some clear principles that all leaders should follow. 

Be clear

It’s likely that you’re mapping out different COVID-19 business scenarios and what you’ll do to manage them if they eventuate. Communications should be no different. Carefully consider what you want to say as your business goes through the different phases of this crisis and prepare the messages that you want to deliver ahead of time. Make sure the messages that you deliver are direct, devoid of jargon and demonstrate empathy. 

Be open

You can’t share everything, but it’s important that your people feel like they’re informed. Acknowledge the challenges that the business and team are going through and provide useful information that answers as many questions as you can. It’s also important to open the floor to others — ask for feedback and allow your people to have a say. 

Be available

People aren’t always comfortable talking in a group situation, particularly in the current environment. Make yourself available for people to approach you on an individual basis and, if this isn’t possible, empower your leadership team with the information they need to provide guidance and support to the people around them. 

Be frequent 

Communicate often, and in multiple channels. At Mahlab, our CEO, Cara McLeod, is leading a team meeting every morning over video conference and our Head of Strategy, Kim Richards, is set to become the world’s first Slack influencer — she’s got a serious office following due to the updates and information that she’s providing. While it’s important to plan what you want to say, the way you deliver the message doesn’t need to be a polished performance. It’s more important that you’re communicating as regularly as possible so people feel like they’re aware of what’s happening in a situation that is evolving by the hour. 

Be human

Don’t be afraid to acknowledge that this is tough. People are looking to you for leadership but they also want to know that you’re feeling the impact like they are. The word ‘unprecedented’ has never been used more often in global communications. And the demands on your leadership are just that. Unprecedented. 

Perhaps the most poignant advice for any leader today can be found by reflecting on the simple leadership advice proffered by someone who had a prominent position at a time of world crisis, Eleanor Roosevelt: “To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.”

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