I have always been a fan of Simon Sinek. His books on leadership have inspired me and challenged me to think differently, helping me gain original perspectives. “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader” is one of my favorite quotes of his.
2020 was the year of NEW. We learned through rough lessons, we reinvented ourselves and we have started over again and again. Companies across the world were forced to rethink their strategies, to find solutions to problems they never faced before, and do that while motivating their employees to give their best, and to adapt faster than ever. In face of crisis, unprecedented change, pressure on both personal and professional fronts, our reality has been shaken and rewritten. And each of us coped in our own way, looking for anchors to help us push through.
The expectations from leaders grew at an accelerated pace and our notion of good leadership evolved. We looked at leaders for guidance, for solutions, for support and more importantly… for hope. I strongly believe we are in a moment of reinvention of leadership, and like for businesses, not all will make the cut.
Working in a communications functions in a large organisation has been a roller coaster ride recently. We have been suddenly faced with a faster pace (and we are used to fast!), sitting on a moving platform of business challenges and requirements that reshaped from one day to the next. As communicators, we needed to regain our balance and clarity faster than the rest, to be able to consult and support.
The new reality for leaders and communicators
Crisis brings new dimensions – in terms of tactics, challenges and opportunities, reactions and solutions. In retrospect, we can extract lessons and analyze what we could have done differently, but when in the middle of it all, it is very hard to have a feeling of certainty and keep one’s clarity.
In the new reality, many of us are working remotely and the relationships we have built in the past are acting as our home base, as challenges arise and we feel more and more isolated. How does a leader create a bond or maintain one when they haven’t spent time in-person with their team in almost a year? There is a need to get creative, to think outside the box and work with the fact that everyone is in the same situation. Taking time to share experiences is vital. To some extent, informal virtual interactions should be treated as the famous watercooler discussions – they should be easy, interesting and not rushed. Our natural reactions are surprisingly visible through a screen or noticeable in a telephone chat – people know when you are smiling, when you are writing an email or when you are running to get a coffee while talking to them. Only by being truly present and giving these moments the needed importance, we can add to a relationship versus weaken it.
Creating memorable moments
My team has had a tradition for a few years now to mark the end of a year with a Christmas dinner. We would go out, share stories, laugh a lot and enjoy each other’s company. This became a tradition, a milestone for us as a team, a moment to draw conclusions on what we did well, where we went wrong, and share plans. These moments gave us energy. As we approached the end of 2020, the question was how to recreate that. You know the saying “Where there is a will, there is a way”. We started with that mindset by first offering this topic its place and importance, dedicating time to it and putting our creative hats on. A couple of the team members got the important mission of designing this experience, having at their disposal leadership support and resources. What I can tell you is that when a leader makes connection moments a priority, the team will follow. And it turned out great! For over two hours we painted together, with kits delivered in advance but opened during our virtual dinner, we got food at our doors, we dressed up, took pictures and enjoyed each other’s company.
It is so important to feel valued for who you are, encouraged to bring your whole self to work. Maybe during working hours it’s not always easy to do that, so sharing relaxing moments is essential to creating team spirit. We can let other activities take our focus, but building team engagement takes time and interest. It is the role of a leader to create and nurture a space for people to connect and feel safe to be themselves.
Communications and leadership
Communicators have fought their way to win a seat at the table and become trusted advisors to leaders. And strong communications skills in leaders is a must. How to be committed to a direction you do not understand, a vision poorly explained, or a person you do not trust to get the job done? The way we pass on the message about what we want to do is equally important to the actual execution. True passion comes through and people are motivated to be part of high ambitions and greater goals that they understand and believe in.
One of the key roles of communicators is to be the voice of the people and the advisors to leaders on dealing with team challenges. That implies being able to advise against certain tactics and decisions, while having the capacity to come up with solutions and drive change.
During periods of crisis, communicators are called upon to be that voice of reason, to help leaders make better decisions for their teams, to advise them on what and when to communicate. It is part of our role, and recently we needed to be even bolder, faster and more creative.
If there is one lesson I extracted as a communicator during Covid times is that you need to trust your instincts and expertise. I am not underestimating the importance of knowledge and experience in crisis communications – from change management tools to tactics to help take people through change, and ways to deliver tough messages emphatically. However, I am also convinced that our gut feeling is an amazing barometer to help us navigate through uncertainty as consultants and communications professionals. And remember… while employees look for inspiration, clarity and reassurance from their leaders, leaders look to communicators for agility, intelligence and creativity!