I was catching up with Dr. Deena Brown the other day and after listening to her for five minutes, I couldn’t hit the record button fast enough. Here’s the rest of our conversation about leadership communications during a crisis.
Dr. Deena Brown:
Well, in regards to crisis leadership, at this point in time, communication is key.
Communication is always key, but more so now during a crisis. You have to lead. This is not a time to sit and have lots of meetings of what should we do? And you’re having thought groups, you’re having everybody give their input. The mindset space of those that you’re leading is not there. Now is the leadership point in time to say, here’s the decision that’s been made. Here’s why I made the decision. Here’s the things that support the decision and here’s the way ahead and here’s how I will keep you looped and informed along the journey to do that. And you still allow that space to pivot where necessary. But to shift when needed. And there’s a key difference between pivoting and shifting is which I share a lot. The pivot anchors you to the spot where you’re at and you’re looking around to see which [00:01:00] direction and you might change your direction. A shift requires you to take a step to move, and when you move into that new space, you’re now opening up a whole new paradigm of opportunity.
And so that’s why, of course, it’s called a paradigm shift, and a lot of times it’s used based on your current information.
This is the new normal, and here’s the thing, creative chaos is actually more normal than not. The mental space, the pandemic that involves the health space. Think about all of the shifts that we’ve had. We’ve talked about disrupting HR, disrupting, the movie industry, disrupting, you have Uberizing things. That is creative disruption. And that’s what we have right now. It just kind of happened on a global scale.
And it happened across many, many industries with certain industries already set up for it and others were [00:02:00] not. And so now what do you do as a leader in this time? And like you were mentioning, is that the content, the creation I now have to communicate, I now have to share information and my cryptic emails and my long blog newsletters about what’s happening internally in the workspace is not going cut it for those I’m charged to lead.
How do you lead in times of crisis? You lead with clarity. What is the message? And here’s the part that in the clarity spaces that you can actually even state, I don’t have every single answer right now but I’m working on it. And then you follow back up. So you need the clarity and you lead with the confidence, the confidence that I’m a solutionist. There are solutions to this. I am equipping myself with the resources. I will equip you [00:03:00] with the resources to traverse this opportunity.
So that clarity and that confidence is essential. And the third piece to that, these three things are career critical in this time of crisis and actually all the time, but definitely during now is the consistency. You’re going to have to show up consistently and more. You’re going to have to explain yourself where previously you might not have as leader you needed to explain yourself. Because you’re not just managing productivity, you’re managing mindsets, and during this time is when people are really going to either trust you or they’re not. And trust is a critical component of leadership.
Kristen McAlister: There’s so many leaders out, there are business owners and CEOs who really aren’t used to being that front person. They’re used to just running the company and then they’ve got a management team or they kind of like being in the shadows. [00:04:00] They’re needing to step forward and step really step out of their comfort zone.
What advice you give to those leaders who are not the best communicators, and now you’re saying, “You’re not good at this thing here. I want you to do more of it.”
Dr. Deena Brown: Reach out for help. Bbe the first one to say, okay, I’m not good at this. I need some help. But in the meantime, if you’re now having quote unquote a zoom conference meeting with all of your staff and you just got you founded at 5:00 AM that you’ve got to do this at 8:00 AM, you may not have time to call a coach like me to say, “Hey, can you help me?” So what do you do? I’m going to give you advice from that space, and then I’ll do the other space.
In that space you come as authentic and as humble as possible to that group and say, first and foremost, I’m going to let you know, and we all know. I may not be the best communicator, but here’s what I know and let me give it to you. And if when me sharing it with you, you don’t [00:05:00] process it the way that you need to, please let me know.
I’m not going to take it personally. I want to open and create a safe space for you to tell me you need more. And if you know I’m actually involving and having an interchange with those I’m charged to lead to say, tell me what I can do and that be the very first touch that you have with that group to say, okay, I’m stepping out of my box. What’s going to happen as a result of that from a brain based research space, a neurological space. Those that you’re charged to lead are now going to connect with you on a whole other level.
Because they need to know that they’re not in it by themselves. They need to be aware that it’s not just them that’s a little bit confused and off-kilter. And so by saying that, that actually makes you a stronger [00:06:00] leader as opposed to a person that’s faking it and bluffing it. So again, now it doesn’t excuse you to say anything off the cuff, but what it does initially say is that I am humbling myself to tell you that as an introverted leader that is not used to this. This is new to me, but I am here for you and here’s what I’ve got for you. Here’s the information that I have, and as I am informed and I know more, I am going to communicate with you and I want to make sure that I open the space that you can communicate back to me.
Now, depending on your org structure, you’re not going to have 500 or 5,000 employees coming to you. You may have your just your senior leadership depending on what level you’re speaking to, but this works at every single level because if you think about this the best way, I’m telling you what I learned about being a phenomenal leader and having my son and having to [00:07:00] communicate with him, and he’s 18 now, and knowing which kind of relationship I wanted, I didn’t need to be right all the time. I want a relationship. And so I’m thinking how can I build a relationship which is actually going to carry us far beyond this crisis and actually give us the opportunity to expand because I’m a futurist.
I’m looking at what’s on the other side of this. So as a leader, I’m already thinking that. So I know what do I have to do right now Today? I have to show up. I have to show up as my authentic self, and if my authentic self stutters in words, I’m going to do that, but I am going to put the elephant in the room. And go and tell them as everybody already knows. See, they already know it, but if you go in there trying to fake it and act like you got it all, then again, they’re going to tune out. But when you go in there saying, okay, guess what guys? I never thought I’d be here. You never thought I’d be here. I probably communicated not as much as I [00:08:00] wanted to, but I’m here now and here’s what I got for you.
We’re in this together. How far is that going to go? Extremely.
Kristen McAlister: You mentioned working with clients. Has that changed much over the past couple months or has the conversation shifted? Is it what they need. Or is it applying what you’ve been talking to them all along to a new situation?
Dr. Deena Brown: It is. Well, my expertise is in communication, whether it’s conflict, communication, connection, communication, um, expanding, connections amongst teams, and building those. Anything involving communication. That’s what I deal with. Whether they’re working with their teams or individually. To be honest with you, their life period. Because you can’t separate your life from your leadership. And so what has shifted in these relationships is that I have actually [00:09:00] been more holistic for them and a resource of how do I manage my mindset so that I can actually manage the communication with my team. So it’s not so heavily focused on how can I communicate, with team A and team B because I have this project, I need these results.
I’m coming across a certain way for them. I’m now getting, there’s been a shift in, let’s say, the last 30 days, where again, intuitively I’ve had to say, okay, where are you at? How are you. Because I can’t teach you how to talk to these people if your head is all screwed up. So I have had to go, okay, let’s spend this first 10-15 minutes. Let’s talk about where you’re at. Where’s your head at? What’s kind of going on there? How can you manage your mindset? How can you begin to look at the situation differently? How can you begin to strategize the situation to quiet the monkey, my brain that’s going on and to [00:10:00] not to lead from a space of fear or confusion because if you take that energy into the meeting, whether it’s virtually or not, that’s exactly the energy that those are charged to leave will pick from you. Energy is transferable. So what I’ve had to do more than not is actually to work on that, particularly now that we’ve had to lay off people. We’ve had to downsize and where we’ve started as far as the executive coaching space. So even though, you know, being a master communicator, helping them do that, but from the executive coaching space that works with, you know that C-suite decision makers is like, how do I let a person go during this time and sleep at night?
And so again, we go back to, so let’s, let’s put what’s on the table. Why are we letting them go? Because [00:11:00] now this was a perfect opportunity for some that I’ve been working with for a while that they need, some people needed to go six months ago before this happened. And so we start talking about, okay, how can we begin to create and co-create the dynamic that is going to continue to grow this company and the business objective. Let’s take yourself out of it. We’re going to have to take you out of it. We’re going to have to take our personal space out of it and go from a space of what’s best for the organization. And what’s best for those others.
And now how do we communicate that? How do we communicate that with dignity? How do we communicate that where we still as much as possible, maintain the relationship where it can be maintained? Because the truth of the matter is not everybody’s going like it and you cannot manage. You cannot decide how they’re going to respond.
You don’t have that option.
Dr. Deena Brown: But you can, you can manage how you communicate to them and your reasons why. So it can [00:12:00] be very clear as to the why. And now for some organizations, the why is given to you because we’ve had to shut down. We’re not open. We have no revenue. So that’s it.
Kristen McAlister: And that’s, you know, it’s easy economic hardship.
We’ve been hosting a number of virtual meetups, and the overarching theme across all of them is communicate, communicate, communicate, but not just your employees, those that you’ve furloughed. How are you advising your clients on that type of communication?
What to communicate, how to communicate to it. You can’t promise anything, but you can provide some type of comfort, some type of connection.
Dr. Deena Brown: Right. You can provide some resources. You can. This is where partnerships come in. This is where leveraging your relationships come in, [00:13:00] and I would beg to differ that in any of your leaders that are in that position. That has a nice network. They know someone in their network who may need the services in the right now space of one of those people that you let go. And so beginning to leverage your relationships is important to say, I can make a referral to you. And this is not for everybody because you don’t want to put your name on everybody because some of the people you don’t want working for you in the first place.
So I’m only going to speak to those people that. For you, it’s really a hardship even for you to let that person go. So you begin to leverage your relationships and you have to think outside the box. What else can you do? What is this another opportunity for? What are some of those other gifts? Could you possibly look at if you need some advanced training in a space, cause you look at that, is this a great time to maybe start a business? Is there something that, you [00:14:00] know, and this is what I’d be saying to these employees, what do you know that you can sell. Because people want to buy what you know. If you are a great organizer, you’re a great project manager and you know, systems front and back.
How about saying, have you considered Jimmy, Mary that systems thinking is a challenge? Have you thought about maybe offering your services as a freelancer? I know five small businesses or five different corporations that are looking for freelancers right now and that might actually help you during this time.
Dr. Deena Brown: If you begin to help people see the opportunities and the possibilities from the top down, that’s where it starts. But to be honest with you, and this is not to be callous, because I’m probably the most compassionate leader that I know, is that part of this responsibility lies on the individual themselves.
To actually see the opportunity. So that’s why [00:15:00] the communication messaging is so important. I am not going to take on the responsibility of carrying your weight, of your frustration, your depression. I can empathize with you. So I’m very particular about my word choice because words have power.
Kristen McAlister: I’ve heard it put out there as far as the way that you’re explaining it and to help CEO see though, you’re helping them come up with some possible solutions.
It really is not your problem to solve. You can help them with solutions, but don’t take on their problem as yours.
Dr. Deena Brown: Yes,
Kristen McAlister: Because you’ve got the company to think about. We were talking about it early that mindset of, you know what, I’m just going to wait. Yeah, I’m not going to try it out. I’m [00:16:00] not going to do that. I’m just going wait until things get back to normal, you know? And things will open up in a couple of weeks and it’s that frozen. It’s the flight, fight or freeze. They’re freezing. As a leader, how do you identify, especially from remotely.
Who’s in each of the buckets and how to be best communicating to them and what to communicate to them separately.
Dr. Deena Brown: The first part of that is your check-ins. The beauty of technology is that we can actually check in faster, quicker, and more efficiently, and not only scheduling group check-ins, but one-to-ones the same way that you would have one to ones. Professional, you know, time with your staff and employees. You can have a one to one virtually. And if you simply ask the question, where are you, you may have some specific goals. This varies [00:17:00] depending on the company. Previously I’ve worked in companies that were service and professional base so you’re talking accounting firms or companies, they have specific deadlines you can really track real quick who’s on it and who’s not. To do that?
Are you actually getting those returns process? Are you actually having the engagement letter sent? You can see that’s all been electronic for awhile anyway, and so you can see in the programming where it’s at.
That’s not ever been, like I said, that particular issue, to do that, but say that you have a different, type of company you want to check on with everyone and you don’t have goals. I say you still set those, um, those performance goals you check in. And if you don’t have someone that’s checking in every day again, and, uh, and it might not be, you.
When you’re talking about your team and your management and your leaders, charge them and power them to lead. Because what you’re doing is actually showing them how to lead through a crisis. You’re not taking all of their responsibility from them and doing it themselves. You’re leading from the [00:18:00] top because everything rises and falls on the leadership.
So how you communicate to them and you model what they should be communicating to their teams. And they’re modeling what they should communicate all the way down the org chart. So one of the things that I have found for several of my clients when we had the conversation was the power of the check-in.
And it’s not just a check in to see, I see that you finished for the five reports. It always starts with, how are you today? What’s going on with you today? Is every is actually the human factor piece. Where’s your frame of mind? How are you? I’m asking what are you doing mentally?
Before I ask you about what did you produce? What’s going on today? What are you checking in the morning or you check in in the evening the framing of the question maybe would be a little bit different, but it’s still an actual check-in. And you have to understand pandemic simultaneous [00:19:00] with the financial crisis
And they cannot produce what you need them produce if they are stressed. Their brains are just pulled that they, they don’t know whether to drink a bottle of wine, you know, or cry and why. You have to acknowledge that. And give people a space to do that. And so one of the things as far as the resources and what you’re communicating with them, if you have a package as part of your company or organization that has mental health, wellness, therapy, et cetera, that you make sure that that is communicated as well, that people have an option to see and to speak.
And maybe if you have, if you’re large enough organization that you have that built in, is that you may ask some of your counselors or your HR or your, psychologist, whoever that might be on staff, or you outsource for that to hold private groups for members of your team
Kristen McAlister: That’s a great [00:20:00] idea, and I have not had that come up when any of our situations now that we’re past. The initial shock you’ve got to balance the economic crisis along with a health crisis. And you mentioned psychologists. Is that something that you’d recommend to companies to bring in a counselor?
Dr. Deena Brown: Absolutely.
Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. And many of your insurance plans. Actually have them. People don’t use them a lot because of the stigma. but this is a perfect time to begin to infuse that. And if you look, and I don’t have it cause I wasn’t prepared for that. If you look at actually the research and not only just millennials, but gen X is, and throughout.
Mental health and well-being is huge on there. So here’s a time as a leader, you can lead from the front to say your mental health and wellness is critical. And guess what we’ve set up, we have a partnership with whatever, Anthem, whoever [00:21:00] you have, and they have a team of psychologists that will hold groups or you can visit them one to one and you can kind of talk and they can help you manage and deal with and process through this.
Emotionally and mentally as a leader. Recognizing that it’s not just about the bottom line. Can you tell me that I’m not going to know, like and love and trust you and follow you to the ends of the earth? If you’re telling me that you care about my mental health and you know that I might be stressed, I know I’ve got to finish that report, but you’re taking the time to say, I know this is stressful and I don’t want to forget about who you are as a human.
That’s huge. That’s leading with the heart and the mind. And so again, like I told you, I’m a futurist. How do we come out on the end? How do we come out stronger, more powerful, more cohesive? So that’s at the forefront of my [00:22:00] coaching is that I see the right now, but how do we take those micro steps and micro wins that’s going to lead to a huge gain on the other side off whatever, whenever we get to that other side because everything is useful, we’re not going to do something just for right now. We’re doing something because we’re setting the tone because guess what? There’s going to be another crisis, a situation, whatever down the line, whether it’s in your lifetime and your kids’ lifetime, something’s going to happen again, but now I’ve actually equipped you with the tools to manage it internally and externally.
Kristen McAlister: I don’t want to go into other things, but to wrap up the current to what we’re currently working on here. What is the biggest piece of advice that you’re giving your clients and they’re going, wow.
Dr. Deena Brown: The biggest piece of advice has been to [00:23:00] just be. That you as the leader have to also own your ‘ish’ where you are right now and you just have to b. Don’t judge yourself. Give yourself grace. And practice gratitude. Be thankful that you’re in a position to lead instead of regretful, that you’re the person charged to lead.
And that even in the midst of all of it, it’s okay not to have all the answers. And that’s the power of just being. Right now in this moment, here’s what I know, here’s what I got, here’s what I give you. And that’s where that gratitude and grace comes in.
And keep community, and I always tell and keep communicating, but to communicate the fact of where you’re at in being. That [00:24:00] vulnerability is your most powerful asset.
Kristen McAlister: Which is one of the toughest things for most leaders to be.
Dr. Deena Brown: Yup.
Kristen McAlister: Wow thank you so
Dr. Deena Brown: much. You’re welcome.
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