Calling all CEOs... It's time to lead

"Your assistant has left for the day (and won't be back for several months), so grab a notebook and write this down."

You, in the corner office, listen up. Your staff is frightened. They are unnerved. Some days, they feel positively defeated. And in addition to what they do at your company, many of them are juggling new jobs as teachers, psychologists and nurses. 

A memo from you providing new remote working guidelines is cold and tone deaf. And a generic, sweeping thank you simply won’t cut it. With so many unknowns about how disruptive it will ultimately be to our health and livelihood, it’s time you gave people what they need. Compassion. Encouragement. Hope. Your assistant has left for the day (and won’t be back for several months), so grab a notebook and write this down:

Connect.

Forget the long-winded company-wide email. Take your smart phone or your laptop and speak to your employees. Not just the C-suite, but the entire organization. Let them see your face and hear your voice. Describe your new commute (to the dining room table, basement or –if you’re very lucky, home office). Acknowledge that from the waist down, you’re actually in your pajamas. Or how on Tuesday, you never got around to showering until 6:00pm. Do this over a 1-3 minute video message and continue to broadcast once a week.

Empathize.

Whether you’re parenting small children, moody teenagers, caring for elderly relatives, or isolating alone, the current arrangement has required all of us to adapt. Has it been stressful venturing out to procure food and cleaning supplies? Have you mastered an at-home (albeit less than ideal) workout? Is there a horrible new reality show or podcast that you find yourself addicted to? With everyone’s rituals disturbed, people are struggling to find new coping mechanisms. Tell them they are not alone.

Appreciate.

Call out exceptional work and recognize your staff’s overall effort. Express your gratitude thoroughly, authentically and frequently.

Be humble.

It’s fine to acknowledge on social media something that lifted your spirits, but if that "thing" is a frivolous luxury item, do everyone a favor and keep it to yourself. And while you’re at it, encourage employees to pause and consider the tone and impact of what they post, as well.

Motivate.

Remind people of the resiliency of the human spirit. This isn’t our society –or our planet’s –first crisis nor will it be our last, but we will recover. Give your employees an optimistic glimpse of what your business could look like on the other side.

Like it or not, you are now a crisis manager. You cannot guarantee the health of your staff, nor can you promise the security of their positions.  But you have an obligation to lead them through this storm with decisiveness and transparency.  And an opportunity to do it with support and inspiration.

Julia Mayer-Janovic is the chief communications officer at CourtAvenue.

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