What is Your Leadership Legacy?

By Licia Walsworth, Communications Strategist

3 keys to leading through a crisis

Leadership can be defined as your ability to influence people to follow your guidance willingly. Or, it can be defined as your ability to command or apply force.

Which defines your leadership style: the type that attracts or forces? It’s an important question, particularly during a time of crisis, like the current COVID-19 pandemic, when your leadership style will determine your leadership legacy. That legacy will be engrained in the hearts and minds of your team members for years to come. So, how do you want to be remembered?

I have seen the full spectrum of leadership styles over the course of my career. This has allowed me to truly understand which leadership style encourages peak performance. If you’re a leader who tends to throw your title around to get the job done, the following insights might help you understand how to become a leader people will follow willingly, without conflict or force.

For me, leadership that achieves peak performance boils down to three simple concepts: Connection. Compassion. Core values.

During today’s public health, business disruption and economic crises, these three defining characteristics are more important to embrace than ever.

1. Connection

Your current team situation could look vastly different than it did two months ago. Furloughs, remote work and virtual meetings may mean big changes in how and who you are connecting with. This does not change your responsibilities as a leader. How connected are you to your team? Do you understand their home situation amid this pandemic? Are you in contact on a consistent basis, and not just through a quick text? Do they have updates on their company, their jobs, and their financial well-being? During this time of uncertainty, be their certain.

If you regularly struggle with forming a meaningful connection with your team members, use this chance to create it. If there are silver linings to this climate, this is one. Find creative ways to bridge the gap with those who serve under your leadership. All of this will carry through as life begins to return to what will be our new normal.

2. Compassion

A heart-led leader can sometimes be seen as weak. I feel this is the biggest misconception of our time created by those that have inner fears of insecurity. Think back over your career to those who truly inspired and mentored you, to those you worked hardest for and to whom you wanted to prove yourself. If you became a leader just to move up in your career, then you have missed the point. To lead – to provide guidance, to mentor the next generation of leaders, to help carve a path for those to serve after you, that is the ultimate goal. Compassion for your team and the situations they exist in is a powerful tool in understanding how to manage them effectively.

Just as one shirt does not fit all people, neither does one leadership style. Your compassion for each team member gives you the blueprints to their inner workings. With empathy, you can recognize who makes decisions based on uncertainty, who is meticulous and needs to increase their response time, who thrives on praise, and who fears being wrong. Ask your employees how they are doing – and mean it. Find out how their family or pets are doing, and how homeschooling is going. Try a Zoom call just to check in. Think about how you can level the playing field. You are no longer in your private office, behind your large desk and name placard. You are behind a computer screen, in your place of comfort—your home–that has turned as professional as it can be.

If you show you care for your team, they will work harder because they, in turn, will care about you.

3. Core Values

Core values reflect your life’s purpose and who you ultimately want to be. What would your team say is your defining trait? Perhaps it’s integrity. Honesty. Accountability. Determination. Strength. Can you honestly say you would do everything you ask your team to do? Or do you convey the message of “do as I say, not as I do?” True leaders inspire — and not just through their messaging. They lead by example. They lead by their values.

Are you asking more of your team in this current climate than you would want to take on yourself? Are you a part of the problem instead of the solution? Take this time to reflect on the situations and drivers that landed you in your leadership role in the first place. How can you take your beliefs to inspire someone else to get to that same point in their career trajectory? How can you be the leader who others aspire to become?

True leaders arise out of challenging times. Are you living the lifestyle of a leader or just going through the motions through a title you were given? Have you rolled up your sleeves to be part of the team and to understand where they are coming from in this unprecedented situation? How will you be remembered for your leadership style when the time comes to put the pieces back together? What will your leadership legacy be?

A. N. C. – It Matters Now More than Ever

ANC - Aviate Navigate Communicate

By Grant Wright, CEO

When I learned to fly, my instructor beat into my head a simple phrase: “Aviate. Navigate. Communicate.” The idea is simple, but powerful – fly the airplane, figure out where you’re going, then tell someone. It speaks to priorities.

There’s little sense in figuring out how you’ll get from A to B if you haven’t first corrected your nosedive that’s about to render your flight obsolete. And once the plane is stable, there’s little point chewing up valuable mic time until you know where you’ll next point the plane to conclude the flight safely. Pilots have unfortunately been so distracted with their heads deep in a map or talking with controllers that they failed to notice the fuel gauge or mismatched engine readings at the root of their problem.

In the years since my training, I’ve realized this lesson applies to so many other areas of our lives. In this unprecedented time of a worldwide pandemic, it’s easy to get caught up in talking about the drama without realizing we’re not yet actually taking the priority actions. Case in point, our President bungling his communications while not yet role modeling the avoidance of handshakes let alone practicing social distancing. Or our Vice President prioritizing the lavishing of praise on our President versus using all of his precious communication time with an audience of millions to relay information people actually need.

In times of crisis, there can be a tendency to subordinate communications in favor of less important things. But other than remembering to actually fly the plane and figure out where you’re going, what’s important to remember is that among many other things communication is the third most important thing to do!

In business, this means quickly stabilizing things to a new but temporary operational norm and planning next steps to emerge as strongly as possible once things play out. By definition, both need solid communications to achieve. And solid communication also means, for example, adapting marketing messages now to avoid tone deaf messages because they were programmed three months ago; acknowledging fears and anxiety; and contributing helpful information into the national discourse when possible. It also isn’t the time to attempt distracting news desks with an unrelated PR hook for brand mentions that don’t help. In other words, now is not the time for newsjacking the coronavirus.

With operations and planning in hand, communication itself then becomes the next most important focus. Those organizations that move more quickly than others through the grief stages will emerge stronger than those organizations that act like a deer in headlights.

While the current pandemic is an unprecedented threat, and events are playing out with startling speed to which we’re simply not accustomed, it isn’t hyperbole that we’ll get through this. Unprecedented action is being taken the world over and ‘this too shall pass’.

At (W)right On, we’re assisting our client partners with their temporary operational adjustments and plans development. Communication isn’t slowing, it’s being redirected to support the aviate and navigate priorities. But recognizing that as inevitably as the wave is coming it will recede, and that post-pandemic attention for marketing messages will be a scarce resource, some are already beginning to explore more creative communications to take advantage of competitive opportunities to emerge. With solid aviation and navigation in place, our client partners are already planning to increase marketing communication in the weeks and months ahead to ensure that, as the wave passes, they are poised to protect and increase their market position. Like those that wait to deal with operations and navigation, organizations that unduly subordinate or arbitrarily delay marketing communications won’t do as well.

Pundits are hoping for a slow smolder in the USA with a peak to come in the months ahead after which life will begin returning to a new normal. In the marketing communications world, this timing is relatively imminent. It heightens the importance of not only embracing communications now to effectively aviate and navigate, but embracing communications to, well, communicate.

At (W)right On, we’re solidly behind our client partners and team members to move through this together, and following the guidance of experts and community leaders to ensure we help remain part of the solution. Comment below and/or let us know how you’re adapting your communications to rise to the occasion called of all of us, and to rise to the opportunities that will inevitably emerge as the wave passes.

Communications Tips for Coping with the COVID-19 Crisis

COVID-19 Crisis Communications grief model

We developed these communications tips for coping with COVID-19 crisis after recognizing the classic stages of grief in our clients’ and our own responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whether you’re a communicator, an executive in a decision-making role or a citizen trying to do your part, we all need to get from Denial to Acceptance in order to cope with the tough calls, and even tougher consequences, of this global pandemic.

COVID-19 Crisis Communications grief model
Click to enlarge. Link to download PDF below.

These COVID-19 crisis communications tips in the graphic below will help you spot the stages and move your communities and stakeholders through that grieving process.  This includes employees, colleagues, neighbors, family, constituents, customers, clients or patients.

The tips will also help you spot some of the psychological traps that might impact your decision making or how your messages are received. If we’re going to flatten the curve in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, we need to impact people’s beliefs and attitudes so they accept and stick with the massive behavior changes needed to save lives.

Even as people come to Acceptance,  we recognize that fear and anxiety will be the predominant emotions in our communities. For these, here are some more conventional crisis communications principles to apply:

  • Err on the side of communicating too frequently—especially with employees who are working remotely or laid off.
  • Focus on fact-based messages and have one single point of truth and spokesperson so information is consistent.
  • Meet your audiences where they are: on social media, email and the web.
  • Stay in your lane: defer to the expertise of public health officials and policymakers.
  • Create feedback mechanisms for concerned stakeholders and be responsive to or, at minimum, show empathy even if you do not have answers.
  • Be clear in all communications that the situation may change abruptly.

All of us at (W)right On Communications are incredibly concerned for our clients, communities and friends and family. We are standing strong with our client partners and doing our part to help one another through these coming weeks and months, including social distancing through telecommuting.

Please stay home, shop local and give what you can to your neighborhood nonprofits. And if there is anything we can do to assist you or your organization during these unprecedented and unpredictable times, let us know at info@wrightoncomm.com. We will make it work. It’s what we all have to do.

Download a PDF of our tips: COVID-19 Crisis Communications Tips.pdf (142 downloads)