One of a leader’s chief tasks is to assist people to deal with fear. The COVID-19 virus so far has not caused as many deaths as happen every day from auto accidents or the flu. Yet many people in your organization as well as your customers may be near panic. Your job is to help turn that panic into reasoned concern and thoughtful plans on how to proceed.
Strong character leaders understand that trust is essential—and to be trusted the leader must be very timely and transparent. People can smell “spin” a mile away—so in order to maintain and build trust, the strong character leader reveals new information as they get it—but they also provide their perspective on the new information. Strong character leaders don’t “spin” when talking about new information – but they also don’t go to the chicken little “the sky is failing” scenario.
Our research shows that there are four “Character Habits” that successful high character leaders have. To help people in your organization deal with the fear about the COVID-19 virus, use these four Character Habits:
Integrity: You may have the best of intentions but have decided to wait a while before you have more definitive information. Don’t do that! People need to know ASAP what you know. If you don’t have all the information, tell them that. And, let them know that you’ll communicate again when you do get more information. Neuroscientists tell us that humans are “wired” to quickly see the downside of any situation and to over-emphasize it. Things usually never turn out as bad as we first fear. Remind people of this and help them “dial back” their worst fears.
Responsibility: Don’t withhold information. People can easily sense when a leader is waffling. If they feel like you’re withholding information, you will lose many trust “points” that you may never regain. In fact, when you communicate with your people, end with telling them when you will reach out again. Then, do reach out when you promised even if you have no new information. In such a case just repeat the message of your last connection. Once people hear the same consistent message several times, they are more apt to believe it’s the truth.
Forgiveness: Be gentle with people and expect that people are going to be making mistakes while they are grappling with their own fear. Help them to see the impact of their decision making but expect that people will make mistakes during this time and use those mistakes for learning and development rather than punishment.
Compassion: Finally, be human! Let them know that you too are struggling to deal with the current situation. But if you tell them what you’ve decided to do, be sure you’re committed to that course of action. Put yourself in their shoes. If people believe that you truly understand what they’re feeling and experiencing, you will ease their anxiety and build trust.
Especially in times of uncertainty and fear, strong character leaders do the right thing because they have ingrained habits of demonstrating integrity, responsibility, forgiveness, and compassion.