Experience has shown time and time again that people crave leadership when they are afraid. But leading well during a crisis does not mean faking it so people don’t freak out.
It doesn’t mean promising people all will be fine or lecturing them for being frightened.
The key ingredients in a crisis are authenticity, honesty and a relentless pursuit of reasoned optimism that are the recipe for leadership.
It means going beyond the call of duty to empathize, sympathize and identify with those who are led.
A leader, who is on top of his or her leadership “game” whether in a crisis or in ordinary times exudes a radiating calm, competence, and compassion so the people being led are comforted by the leader’s presence and depth of vision.
In the present international and national crisis, fear and anxiety are contagious and are ever present.
In a crisis, people watch closely and over interpret a leader’s every word, gesture and tone. Whether real or imagined, people can spot an exaggeration or a lack of authenticity a mile away.
A good leader does his or her best to tell people the truth always, but this is especially so in a crisis.
Before their missteps or inevitable misstatements are blown out of proportion, savvy leaders self correct; they admit when they do not know the answer, but give their sincerest undertaking to provide answers within a reasonable time.
The “seasoned” leader who has “shaken hands with the truth” is honest about the current crisis but demonstrates that he or she is “clear-eyed” about the path out of it.
Being candid as opposed to sugarcoating the situation allows people to relax a bit, knowing that the leader will always tell them what they need to know when they need to know it.
This allows them to shift some of their emotional burden to the leader’s shoulders, which gives them the chance to find some normalcy in the storm.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke to the American people by radio on December 9, 1941, two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The president was blunt with people who were terrified.
He said, “We are now in this war. We are all in it — all the way. Every single man, woman and child is a partner in the most tremendous undertaking of our American history. We must share together the bad news and the good news, the defeats and the victories — the changing fortunes of war. So far, the news has all been bad.”
After establishing his connection with the American people by his use of candor, the president then laid out a detailed plan for fighting the countries that were part and parcel of the attack on the United States.
The kind of honesty and candor about the circumstance in which the United States found itself, and expressed by Roosevelt, is what makes possible reassurance about the future.
This is the kind of assurance that the Bahamian people need today, tomorrow and for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.
In this present crisis in which The Bahamas is engulfed, the indispensable part of crisis leadership is that no matter how pessimistic the leader is feeling about the present, he MUST be relentless in his communication that the Bahamian people will be okay in the long run.
In the Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene I, the first line of Portia’s soliloquy states, “The quality of mercy is not strained…”; and so it is with leadership – the quality of good leadership, in crisis or normal times, is not “strained”.
It is steady, consistent, honest, assuring, relentlessly truthful, candid, emphatic, sympathetic, competent, and compassionate. Selah.
— Dr. Donald M. McCartney, DM-OL