When faced a business or economic crisis, a competitor challenging your turf, a fast-changing environment or particularly tough negotiations, business owners and entrepreneurs have a unique opportunity to demonstrate greatness and inspire confidence. However the approaches that work when waters are calm differ significantly from those that inspire when seas are choppy.
This post was inspired by an article in the Harvard Business Review about why people pick leaders with deceptively simple answers (see link below). Today I've seized upon a number of the themes raised by the author to create "4 Proven Ways to Lead (and Communicate) during Uncertain Times"
To thrive not just survive in uncertain times, a great leader:
1. Identifies and articulates the fears, concerns and ideals of those they lead
In my media and messaging coaching, I tell my clients that the 1st Rule of Communications is 'Know your Target Audience'. And there's no more critical time to be tuned into your customers, clients, staff and stakeholders than during crises and periods of uncertainty.
Communications based on guesswork can easily worsen the crisis as your words do not resonate as strongly with your audience and you risk losing credibility and/or time.
2. Place greater emphasis on inspiring and emotive appeals
While a great leader's decisions must be underpinned by rationality, increasing the number of inspiring and emotive appeals is likely to resonate more during tough times.
In his piece in HBR.org today Gianpiero Petriglieri writes, "Freud observed that 'groups are eager to follow not those who present the most accurate picture of reality, but those who most clearly reflect group members’ cherished ideals. And the more distressing the group’s reality is, the more those ideals became divorced from it.'
3. Promotes a vision that - while somewhat idealised - can be delivered
The people-who-matter to your business are looking to you for inspiration and confidence. While, in uncertain times, rationality holds less of an appeal than during times of stability, being overly-bullish is equally a recipe for disaster.
"... the leaders who inspire the most enthusiasm by catering to powerful wishes also provoke the most disillusionment when those wishes do not materialize. And when that happens we hardly ever blame ourselves for being irrationally hopeful. We blame the leader for not being good enough — or for not being good any longer", reports the Harvard Business Review.
Getting this balance right comes with careful planning and with experience.
4. Keeps followers abreast of changes as they occur
In a fast-changing environment what was planned yesterday may not be appropriate today. Promoting and maintaining a culture of open and timely dialogue, provides stakeholders with a greater sense of assurance and trust that you have their interests at heart and that your finger is on the pulse of the changing-environment. This increases confidence that you are the leader with the appropriate skills to navigate them through the choppy waters.
5. Prepares for success during tough times
With 20 years experience in issues and reputation management, here are my top tips for the preparation that separates the pros from the rest.
Ultimately, very few crises spell the end of a business. Sure they present a challenge but ultimately they also provide a great opportunity to learn and to improve our leadership style and skills and our preparedness to deal with whatever may come.
Harvard Business Review, 9 May 2016 'Why We Pick Leaders with Deceptively Simple Answers'
'Thriving through Tough Negotiations' on our It Works page