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Disaster Leadership: Playing Offense in a Time of Defense – Part 2

We received a communication from a Vistage Chair that offered seven communication tips that will go a long way toward smoothing over every communication during this time of heightened emotions, worries, frustrations, and concerns, based on the work of Michael Margolis. We appreciated them immensely and have modified them for the leaders we work with. Here are some disaster leadership related tips that everyone can use. 

If you missed part of 1 of this article you can find it here

Storytelling for Business Tips

  • First, offer reassurance. Begin by stating any positives. Emphasize your reasons for having faith in the future. Why do you believe in your team, their resilience? What gives you peace of mind? What positions you to adapt and change and respond to the crisis and the evolving context? What strengths and assets will help to mitigate disruptions in your industry? Plant seeds of optimism wherever you can without misleading.
  • Empathize with people’s realities. Validate realistic fear, concern, worry, pain, etc. When people are feeling vulnerable they cannot operate from a place of logic and reason. They must process emotions to get out of fight-or-flight first. This challenge is a defining moment of servant leadership. Leaders cannot deny, minimize or order people not to feel the way they feel; instead, be prepared to listen without judgment, empathize, and demonstrate care for employees and customers in any way you and the business can. If others in the organization are more “emotionally intelligent” than others, make them the face of crisis communications.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. What does the American Marketing Association say about crisis communication? You can’t do too much of it. Overcommunicate. If you’ve said a lot, say a bit more, in different words. Remember the different modes of learning–visual, auditory, kinesthetic–and even during social isolation, use them. Incorporate graphics, video, and animations to cut through “idea clutter” and help people “get it.” Make yourself accessible. And of course — listen, listen, listen. Ask questions. And give people space to be heard.
  • Mitigate unreasonable fear as much as you mitigate risk. Fear is an adaptive response meant to keep us out of danger: It can spur us to action, freeze us in our tracks, or cause us to run for the hills. Cortisol is a hormone that’s dumped into our bodies when we experience fear, and it is sent into our bodies to assist with the fight/flight/freeze response. While cortisol helped our ancestors outrun predators, it also generates mass panic and irrational choice-making–which is why so many people now have enough toilet paper to last several years. Cortisol separates and divides. Oxytocin (the belonging molecule) is what binds us together. Servant leadership, which mitigates fear, can help to reduce cortisol levels in individuals and create more peace and resolve in general, everywhere.
  • Language is power. Use words that reinforce resilience, positivity, care, preparedness, and safety. Try to avoid repeating words like crisis, emergency, pandemic, disaster, panic, and the like too many times. While the crisis is objective and real, these words may emotionally trigger people into a cortisol (fight, flight, freeze) state. ”COVID-19” has a lower psychic charge than “coronavirus.” Adjusting language can help keep minds and hearts in the right space.
  • Everyone is a leader. You are not alone. Nor are you carrying the world on your shoulders. This is a time to allow everyone around you to lead alongside you. If you open space, they will step into it. Our response to this global challenge is an opportunity to democratize and distribute leadership. Trust your people and yourself; you cannot do this alone and you don’t have to. When you give up control, you will gain in ways you cannot imagine.

Provided by Larry O’Toole of Yosemite Associates

I had a board meeting call this morning and was sharing with the team how to play some Offense right now.

Steps for playing offense now:

  • Reach out to current top customers (at a minimum) and let them know your status. If that status is open for business, confirm it for them. Don’t make customers guess whether your doors are open or not right now
  • Identify new customers you’ve been wanting to make contact with. They might be struggling now with an existing supplier/vendor, your timing of reaching out might be timely
  • Revisit recently lost proposals/quotations. Determine if any merit reaching out to see if status of award has changed. Some competitors are cash strapped and may have had to pull back so the proposal may come back alive again
  • Review your strategy for current customer proposals. Perhaps of more importance now is availability of product/service more so than price. But the pricing strategy you’ve been using in your proposals should be revisited now for possible updating

 These are certainly Sales 101 actions, but I’m hearing from folks I’m talking to and even seeing it with my clients that their minds are more focused on recoiling, playing defense, not getting creative on how to grow.  Now is the time for owners/CEOs to be doing both…protect your business, but also looks for ways to build company value–either now, or at least lay the groundwork for later.

What inspiration, wisdom, experience, strength, hope, or insights do you have to share? What are you seeing on the ground? What should we be alert to? What are the early signs you’d like to point to in order to help other leaders make their own adjustments as we all rise to meet this challenge together?

Please reach out and we’ll continue to get through this as we always have–as one species, ultimately, in the end, working together when the going gets tough.

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