Why honesty is always the best policy for leaders during a crisis
Faced by a crisis (and this coronavirus is a hum-dinger that’s affecting every corner of the globe), it’s human nature to want to hunker down to protect ourselves and those who are important to us from harm until the storm has passed and things seem safe again. After all, self-preservation is a basic instinct.
But that same instinct can get you into trouble when leading others if it leads you to think about hiding bad news, blaming others, or even sugarcoating the truth – because you worry about how people may react towards you and how might get translated into negative consequences (at a personal level as well as a company level). And here’s why.
You can’t tackle and overcome problems by ignoring them or wishing them away. And myriad research confirms that choosing to take quicker and more transparent actions in these circumstances – while these may seem more painful at the outset – will cause those you lead to place more trust in you AND to feel better placed to handle any crisis with greater focus and conviction.
To quote Abraham Lincoln:
“I am a firm believer in the people. Given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”
Quite right. And there’s more.
Absent better information, we humans regularly fill in gaps by making assumptions and drawing inferences. And FYI these will more often than not assume the worst. Psychologists call this behaviour ‘catastrophising ‘ and left unchecked, this can easily be turned into high levels of stress, anxiety, and fatalistic thinking. And the last thing you need when tackling a crisis is a sea of negativity or pessimism.
As Professor Barbara Fredrickson put it so well in her book Positivity:
Negativity pervades your self-talk and your judgments. It bleeds into your exchanges with your colleagues, eroding goodwill between you. Making matters worse, unchecked negativity can breed health-damaging negative emotions—anger, contempt, and depression—that seep into your entire body.
So, that’s not a good plan. A better way for you to lead others through a crisis is to place more trust in them by giving them the knowledge and support they need to break free of narrow and negative thinking that can inhibit the very actions that need to overcome the challenges you face.
And speaking of the trust you need to earn from others at these times, here are 3 thoughts to help you on your way:
3 Simple thoughts on earning more trust when weathering tough times
- Never hide behind words or actions/inactions. Be transparent. People will assess your motivations and judge you by what you say and do
- Never make anything up. If you lose trust, even over small matters, it will never be regained
- Give others credit liberally when successes are achieved. The more audiences believe you’re someone who is selfless and has confidence in them, the more they’ll place confidence in you and your guidance.
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