Leadership in tough times requires great communication, not corporate performance art

Leadership in tough times requires great communication, not corporate performance art

Leadership in tough times requires great communication, not corporate performance art

Open your LinkedIn feed. You won’t have to scroll far before you come across someone posting about their recent layoff. If you’ve ever been in that position before, you know how. It’s scary to read a post like this.

Even if your current company hasn’t laid off anyone.

That’s the thing about fear.

It’s a fire that spreads fast enough on its own, but the words “fire” and 10,000 additional actions make it spread even faster. It is a fire that consumes rationality. It is a fire that will burn through the reassuring statements of government economists.

Financial anxiety, also known as “Oh shit, how am I going to pay rent syndrome?” is in the air.

If you’re a CEO or a founder, now is the time to up your internal communication game.

You can start by being a better leader.

Increase your accessibility.

A leader who separates himself from his people is not a leader at all. A leader behind a closed door (whether real or metaphorical) also gives the impression that he is working on something that he doesn’t want his team to see.

Like a downsizing ad.

Difficult times demand visibility. Even if you don’t know what to say, now is the time to be seen.

People look at leaders with certainty: now is the time to deliver.

In case you haven’t heard, we are in uncertain times, and in uncertain times people look to their leaders for certainty.

Certainty does not require having all (or even any) of the answers. Instead, certainty means knowing the strength and character of oneself and the people one surrounds oneself with. Being confident means that you are confident in your ability to overcome your greatest challenges. Being safe doesn’t mean saying, “I know we can get through this.” It means saying, “I know that we, and you, will be fine in the long run, no matter what happens tomorrow.

It means following up on that statement with real action.

(You can start by doing everything you can to help them find a new job. Don’t post a selfie of yourself crying on LinkedIn. See the next section for more on the futility of performative empathy.)

As a leader, you cannot control the level of uncertainty your employees feel about the market, your industry, or the general direction of society. But you can make them feel confident about you.

Remember: performative empathy is the opposite of real leadership.

Genuine empathy is a great thing. However, we have fetishized empathy. We demand an emotional performance, even in scenarios where real empathy could not exist. We expect leaders to show empathy even when they may not know what it feels like to face the terror of an uncertain economic future.

Here’s the thing: More than 60 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. An unexpected medical bill can bankrupt a family that followed the rules all their lives.

If you’re a CEO and have ever been able to contemplate even a theoretical financial future measured in millions or more, then you don’t know what it’s like to look at a mortgage barrel or rent bill. expiring with no idea how you’re going to pay for it.

So don’t pretend like you did.

Individual CEOs and corporate leaders cannot prevent recessions. Recessions or even slowdowns are complex events whose causes may remain a mystery for decades. Employees understand that times are tough and that their CEO and senior leaders did not cause the turmoil affecting the economy.

They also understand that there are huge differences between the average employee who loses his job and a CEO who is inevitably already writing his own comeback story.

If you’re on the side of the desk that’s still employed (or in the Zoom meeting, or worse, in mass email), don’t pretend you’re in the same boat. You are not.

That’s not real empathy.

It’s just BS corporate performance art.

It’s like being submerged in the Atlantic Ocean in a lifeboat while yelling at people on the deck of the Titanic, “We’re all in this together!”

Tough times call for better leadership. And better communication.

The two are usually the same.

Opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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