In times of crisis and uncertainty, people experience the gamut of emotions. Some are afraid (of both the known and the unknown). Some people get angry, others are frustrated. Some get depressed and some feel lonely. The list goes on…
It’s because of this wide range of negative emotions that leaders need to step up and play an important role. Leaders need to de-escalate anxiety and fear, and they need to offer hope for the future.
Although there are many traits and competencies a good leader must possess, three stand out as critical in times of crisis – Executive Presence, Empathy, and Effective Communication.
Having executive presence is the ability to project mature self-confidence, to project a sense of being able to take control of difficult situations, and to project the ability to make tough decisions. There’s no one thing that gives a leader executive presence. Instead, it’s a combination of a number of factors:
- Confidence: Especially during a crisis, a leader must display a strong level of confidence without being overly confident. It’s OK not to have all the answers. And it’s OK for people to know a leader doesn’t have all the answers. In fact, being open (transparent) and honest (vulnerable) act to build trust and respect. Be confident, but not casual or over-confident, in order to have executive presence.
- Decisiveness: In business, postponing a decision until more facts are revealed or the future becomes clearer can be a smart course of action. But often, leaders must make decisions without all the facts and without certainty about the future. Even though the future may be cloudy, a leader with executive presence must make decisions in the face of that uncertainty.
- Authoritative: How a leader leads should vary with circumstances (situational leadership). Under normal circumstances, it might be most effective to lead by getting buy-in for an idea or by coming to a decision by consensus. But in times of crisis, a leader must be strong and act in an authoritative manner in order to have executive presence.
- Body Language: Our body language communicates a large amount of information. Body language includes how we hold ourselves when we sit, stand and walk. How a leader carries him or herself reflects their state of mind, so it’s important to sit and stand in a manner that projects and instills confidence. In addition, facial expressions matter. People often read others by their facial expressions. A leader’s expression shouldn’t reflect casualness, anger or fear if their intent is to instill confidence. A leader with executive presence is mindful of his or her body language.
- Emotional Control: For leaders to instill confidence, earn trust and earn respect, they must stay in control of their emotions. Emotional outbursts are seen as a loss of control and people know that a leader who loses control is feeling overwhelmed. An overwhelmed leader lacks executive presence. Be mindful of emotions and the expression of those emotions in order to have executive presence.
In times of crisis, it’s important to have a strong executive presence.
A leader who has empathy understands the feelings, needs and concerns of others. He or she is able to define, understand, and react to the concerns and needs that underlie people’s emotional responses and reactions.
The issue here is the importance of treating people like people rather than like “things”. When a leader regards people as people, he or she acknowledges that everyone – regardless of position or tenure – has hopes and dreams, fears and stresses.
Although it’s never productive to treat people like “assets” or “resources”, it’s especially true in times of crisis. If a leader communicates and deals with people as if they were “things”, it demonstrates that the leader doesn’t care about them. And a leader who doesn’t care about the people he or she leads loses the respect and trust of those people.
It’s not that a leader with empathy accepts mediocrity or doesn’t hold people accountable. Instead, having empathy is about HOW they hold people accountable and how they bring out the best in people. Most people want to do a good job – especially in times of crisis. By being understanding and helping people be productive given their specific circumstances, a leader will get more engagement, better results, and earn their loyalty.
In times of crisis, it’s important to have empathy and treat people like people.
Especially in times of crisis, how and what we say can have an enormous impact on people. People are quick to interpret (or misinterpret) messages. People are more sensitive to tone and languaging. And people are looking for reassurance and hope.
In times of uncertainty, it is essential for a leader to choose his or her words carefully. Leaders must make sure they say exactly what they mean to say. Read and then re-read each note and/or message. Try to read it from the point of view of the reader to ensure the message can’t be misconstrued. Make sure the wording has the right emotional “feel” as well. Remember, the reader can’t hear inflections or emphasis when they read the note.
Along those lines, often a phone call, conference call or video call/meeting can be a better solution for addressing issues than written communication. People can hear a leader’s tone and sincerity in their voice. If video is added to the equation, people also get to see a leader’s body language.
In times of crisis, it’s important to take time to craft each message and how it’s delivered.
If you’d like help with any of this, reach out to us. We specialize in helping leaders become more effective and help them bring out the best in people.