Survival of the Fittest: the best traits of crisis leadership - Communication

Evy Fellas

Evy Fellas

Leading your people through a crisis - whether it’s the Covid-19 pandemic, budget cuts, or one-off emergencies - requires a certain set of traits. Do you know what they are?

In our last post, we identified ‘decisiveness’ as the first key trait of effective leaders. But although fast decision-making is key, if your team doesn’t know what those decisions are then they won’t be effective. Communication is key.

2. Communication

We all process information differently, especially in crisis situations. You need to factor that into how you communicate changes to your team.

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States suggests there are 4 ways we process information differently under stress: by simplifying messages, holding on to current beliefs, seeking additional information and opinions, and believing. the first message we hear.

That means it’s essential for leaders to:

  • Communicate key messages early
  • Make messages simple and consistent
  • Repeat messages frequently
  • Deliver messages from a credible source


Our findings:

From our data, we heard a lot of concerning stories: leaders being absent, ‘going into a hole’ and teams not hearing from them for weeks. There was a lack of direction, and clarity. 

Part of being a leader is frequently explaining the situation - where the company is, what they know and don’t know, and what actions are being taken. And in a pandemic, ‘frequently’ should mean every day.  

But we’re all human - and humans experience a fight-or-flight response which affects both our problem-solving ability, and our capacity to hear and understand data. Effective leaders know this, so are taking frequent pauses to process, reassess, and keep their people up-to-date.


The bigger picture

On 5th May 2020, Brain Chesky made 25% of his workforce redundant. CEO and Cofounder of Airbnb, his company suffered a devastating hit during the pandemic - with the booming empire of holiday lettings affected by global lockdowns and travel bans. 

That’s never an easy decision, and it’s an ever harder conversation. But the letter Brian wrote his teams could not have been more clear about the reasons for the layoffs, and the difficulty of coming to this outcome. He was clear about:

  • The decision-making process, and how those affected were selected
  • The ongoing unknowns: when travel will return, and how it will be different
  • His gratitude to the employees living, and how they will be compensated
  • Airbnb’s overarching mission, and how this decision relates to that

His open communication, and show of humanity, doesn’t make the painful decision easier. But it does give his people the exit they deserve.

Check in next week for the next trait you need to deliver effective crisis leadership.


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Topics: Organisational Fitness, News

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