In the ever‐changing world of the global pandemic, there are opportunities for leaders of businesses, organizations and institutions to strengthen our skills so that we and our teams emerge from this experience more resilient than ever. Many leaders are no strangers to crisis management, and some can see recognizable themes emerging this time too.
Crises of any kind are an exhausting time for leaders, requiring careful steering of a multitude of issues and constant connection with many stakeholders. Now, several months in, is a good time for leaders to step back, evaluate and reinforce engagement strategies to help guide the way forward.
Higher levels of uncertainty require more frequent communication
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have seen leaders do a great deal of communicating -- an unprecedented amount, one might say -- whether it be the Prime Minister holding daily press events or the consistently reassuring messages coming from CEOs across industries and sectors. It is the role of the leader to acknowledge the uncertainty that we are experiencing and help us manage through it. The higher the level of uncertainty, the more frequent the communication needs to be. In fact, it is well settled advice that through a crisis leaders must, “Communicate, communicate, communicate...and just when they think there is nothing more to say, communicate again.”
Composure, transparency and consistency are three of the most important considerations for leadership communication in times of crisis. Leaders need to maintain an essence of calm and control, even when facts are in short supply and the future seems opaque. Leaders must also be transparent in order to maintain the trust of their stakeholders, acknowledging uncertainties and maintaining confidence by sharing what’s happening now, what’s coming next and how we’re innovating and adapting. Consistency and coherence -- whether it be of tempo, mood or theme -- is also critical, making the leader’s voice a key source of reliable and timely information for their wide range of audiences.
Preparing the leaders of tomorrow
A global crisis like this one can be challenging for the most well‐established leaders, but can be even more so for the next generation. This fall, I have proudly taken on the role of CEO‐in‐Residence at Trent University, an institution teeming with dynamism and a modern tilt towards big issues that are fundamentally important to the future of our country. Throughout my residency, I will be connecting with students both remotely and hopefully in‐person through lectures, events, panel discussions and residency periods.
While acknowledging the severity and suffering of the current crisis, it is also important to remember that “this too shall pass.” Young leaders of tomorrow will benefit from the learning they gain today, providing them with a well‐equipped toolbox to meet and master the many crises they will face during their lives and their careers. The emphasis on mentorship in higher education -- like the CEO‐in‐Residence program at Trent -- creates valuable touchpoints for students, designed to provide support, encouragement and authentic opportunities to transfer knowledge that will help this next generation of leaders manage successfully through both future crises and the brighter days that lie ahead.
-- Dr. Katie Taylor is the inaugural CEO‐in‐Residence at Trent University, the chair of the Royal Bank of Canada, the former president and chief executive officer of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, the former chair of the Sick Kids Foundation, and trustee of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. She is also vice chair of the Adecco Group and a director of Air Canada and CPP Investments. Trent University presented Dr. Taylor with an honorary degree – the university’s highest honour – in 2016.
This article originally appeared in Metroland.