How to make people feel better even in the worst of times.

In times of uncertainty and crisis it’s the time to step up and lead in new ways. Because people will not remember what you did, they will not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.

Never as customers have, we received so many emails from CEO’s and leaders of large and small organisations expressing care for the wellbeing of staff, gratitude for our country’s incredible key workers and thanks for our continued support.

Never as employees have, we seen and heard so much day to day communication from leadership teams who are otherwise largely invisible.

Never as citizens of Great Britain have, we seen so much collaboration from our politicians who otherwise seem more concerned with infighting and ego than helping those less fortunate in society.

This got us thinking –  what is it that is setting the great leaders apart? 

Maya Angelou, an American civil rights activist famously said,

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Much of the narrative around COVID-19 is around fear. Fear of infection, the death of loved ones, unpreparedness and that the NHS will be overwhelmed. Looking beyond that, the economic narrative is around fear of wage cuts, job losses and small to medium sizes business disappearing all together.

The psychology of fear and uncertainty

Fear is a healthy survival response. It’s how the pre-frontal cortex of our brains has developed, enabling us to think and plan to become more adaptable. Uncertainty on the other hand takes away our ability to accurately plan. Combined with fear, it can cause anxiety and panic leading to unhelpful and irrational thoughts and actions.

“How should I change my leadership style during a crisis situation”. “I’m worried how I’ll come across if I try something new”. “I’m not hearing much for my leaders, I don’t know what to do”. 

These are some of the questions we often get asked. Let’s be upfront, times of uncertainty and crisis are the times to step up and lead in new ways. Because people will not remember what you did, they will not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel. Leaders need to remember that how they make people feel in these unprecedented, uncertain times will be acutely remembered for years to follow.

Never before in a generation has there been a greater need for compassionate leadership.

1. Take on the perspective of your employees.

Remember not everyone will think how you and your executive teams think. Where possible ask for feedback and a snapshot of how some of your people are thinking and feeling in this crisis. What are they most worried about? What are they most positive about? When you address your people try to talk from multiple perspectives. Remembering some will have first-hand experience of the virus others will not, some will experience financial difficulty others will have thousands saved in the bank.

2. Be mindful about the impact that you have on others.

As a leader your actions and words have a far bigger and lasting impact on others. Not only in how they view you but in how hard they will work for you. Try and remember this when communicating to your teams and colleagues. Being mindful to what you are paying attention to and how often you show up virtually. Emotions are contagious and people will mirror, pick up or be reassured on how you act and react in this situation more than any other.

3. Communicate a shared purpose and reiterate this often.

Your organisations purpose maybe to play a part in fighting the coronavirus, it might be to protect the wellbeing of staff, it could be to ensure the long-term financial health of the business to keep people in jobs. As a leadership team agree your number one priority and shared purpose to get through this. Then repeat this narrative frequently and succinctly to reassure your people.

4. Be positive when appropriate.

These are extremely challenging times and leadership needs to be taken seriously. But it’s also important to look for the green shoots and share them when appropriate to keep people motivated and positive that we will come through this. As a country, as a society and as a collective. In a time when many people will feel helpless this can produce a sense of hope and motivation for people to keep going and do all they can to help in the challenging times ahead.

Being cognisant that how you make your people feel as a leader now will have a direct impact on productivity today and in the years to follow. Lead with purpose. Lead to help people feel better.

Stay safe.