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Hearts and minds key to effective leadership communications

This article, authored by our Member Consultant John Clemons, continues a special series titled “Creating Resiliency During the COVID-19 Crisis.” 

This series will feature articles, podcasts and additional resources from our Consultants Collective member consultants, advisors and coaches, whose experience and expertise includes risk and change management, Asia, China, offshoring, leading distributed global teams, managing crises and internal communications, deploying and managing online collaboration tools that enable people to work together virtually, developing new models, as well as expertise in innovation and design-thinking, work-life integration — and more — all of which uniquely positions Consultants Collective to serve its clients during this time. We hope this series is a valuable resource to you and your organization as you tackle the challenges presented by this global public health crisis. If we can provide additional help and support through our executive consulting, advisory and coaching services, please contact us.

It’s the “heart” that makes a difference in leadership communications during the coronavirus pandemic.

Employees are anxious, fearful and seeking answers from their leadership in times of crisis – during a merger, layoff or other major business development like working from home until further notice. The coronavirus has amplified employees’ search for calm amidst the storm.

Employees need to hear and know that business leaders are empathetic; can relate to their feelings of loss and uncertainty – and show their humanity; that leaders have a heart. Communication professionals can ably use buzz words and corporate language – and we have heard them all before: “You can rest assured” … “These are unprecedented times”…”We have this under control,” etc. Shelve these pithy standbys.

Leaders are expected to focus on the business, and they should. But it’s also important to let employees know they have concerns, just like them, for their health and the well-being of their families and friends; share they do not have all the answers, and, in the worst possible scenario, express sadness, feelings of hurt and pain, should an employee(s) be directly impacted by coronavirus.

An outstanding example of leadership messaging to employees comes from Arne Sorenson, president and CEO of Marriott International.

Perfection in leadership communication is impossible during this dynamic situation because it shifts with each passing minute, hour and day.  It’s not what employees want or need right now. Instead, they are seeking clear and honest leadership messaging which includes not only how a company is managing sudden change but also gets to the heart of the matter; that we are in this together.

John Clemons

John Clemons is a senior advisor for Consultants Collective. John has built his professional credibility, reputation and experience through a wide range of award-winning, strategic employee communications and engagement programs. A former journalist and magazine editor, John has worked in management and as an executive for a number of Fortune 500 companies including AT&T, Marriott International, Raytheon Company and Walmart. His nonprofit experience includes serving as Interim Executive Director of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and Vice President of Communications at The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. Clemons is the founder and principal consultant of Clemons Communications which provides unboxed communication solutions to meet clients’ communication needs and challenges. Among his clients have been AARP, Diversey, America Online and several small businesses. John has won numerous awards for internal communications programs and creative projects from the IABC, Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and Women in Communications. Clemons served as Chairman of the IABC International Executive Board from 2001 – 2002. He is professionally accredited with IABC and PRSA. In 2012, he was named an IABC Fellow, recognizing his many contributions to the communications profession. Clemons received his Bachelor’s degree in news journalism and Master’s degree in communications management from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

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