Leadership During COVID-19 – Communication in Times of Stress 

Great leaders calm the fears of their team when times are tough.  When it seems that all odds are stacked against them, true leaders show the light at the end of the tunnel.  This period of health and economic uncertainty is not the time for company leaders to design their message from scratch.  We need to maintain a steady hand at the helm and demonstrate the discipline we ask our workforce to exhibit on a daily basis.  Coming out with something completely new, out of character or hap hazard will add to confusion and potentially damage trust. Anxiety and worry will already be high as the news media feeds fear and uncertainty. This is the time that leaders must show a demeanor consistent with their vision before the crisis occurred and ensure that their message is consistent with the organization’s values and beliefs.  Communications that are consistent, concise and calm bring a soothing effect to an anxious team

One of the early lessons in military leadership taught at the Naval Academy is the lesson of Napoleon’s Corporal.  The lesson teaches us to keep our message simple and easily understood.  It was said that Napoleon would order a young Corporal to polish his boots during his high-level battle planning sessions.  After the meeting was over, Napoleon would ask the Corporal to recite the battle plan back to him and demonstrate some basic understanding.  If the Corporal could do this successfully, Napoleon would go forward with the attack.  If the plan was too complicated to recite, Napoleon would order another planning session to revise and simplify the action before moving forward.  Complex guidance or even a confusing message will very likely be misunderstood and quickly take on an entirely unintended meaning.  Consequently, a message meant to bring down tension and boost morale could actually heighten fear or even seed panic.

At CAVU, we made our mission and vision statement very simple.  We repeat it at every quarterly strategy meeting, townhall and management debrief.  That statement is: People First, Customer Satisfaction and Relentless Pursuit of Perfection.  It’s simple, repeatable, and aligns everything we do with our vision.  Because it’s spoken and reviewed often, it is also second nature during stressful times.  It becomes our compass, guiding the ship through troubled waters.  When push comes to shove, we want our people to have trust and faith that we will practice what we preach.  By repeating the same message with the same demeanor through good times and bad, it helps reassure our team that our foundation is solid.  Leaders are not expected to be perfect and we are going to feel the same stress as the rest of the team.  Having something solid to fall back on when the world seems upside down, helps us stay the course and sleep a little easier.

Dave Burnham, Commander USN (Ret.)
Currently serving as CEO, CAVU Intl.

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