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Leadership communication in the wake of the second wave

The way leaders communicate can make or break employee commitment to their organisation. When leaders communicate with urgency, transparency, and empathy, it helps employees to adapt to the constant change that a crisis brings. Urgency encourages people to make quick decisions, transparency builds trust in leaders and empathy fosters resilience in facing the challenges ahead. But six months into the pandemic, leaders might not be clear on how employees feel about the organisation’s response to the crisis and therefore unsure about what to communicate.

The return on people investment

One of the silver linings of Covid-19 is that the wartime mindset defined by decisive crisis management, scenario planning and human reflex in response to the economic and health shocks affecting employees has been a leadership hallmark in the crisis so far. However, as the world is on its path to recovery whilst preparing for the second wave, there is a risk that leaders will abandon the progress they have made in shaping a more productive and competitive organisation. To further the transformation already underway, renewed focus on people and their capabilities together with resilient and adaptive leadership is necessary. The return on people investment has never been higher, and without it, organisations won’t be able to take full advantage of the post-Covid era to come.

Leadership focus needs to be on prioritising people, demonstrating empathy and engaging with employees to understand the concerns, whilst creating clarity and hope to navigate the crisis. The impact of the crisis on organisations mean that leaders can’t just lead from the middle, but instead they need to be responsive and fluid to the dynamic of an evolving crisis, addressing specific issues within regions and groups. Gaining different perspectives can lead to better decisions to steer through the crisis in a more confident and structured way. Leaders can’t solve all problems a complex crisis brings, but they can provide context, perspective and clarity on what matters.

Operating at the speed of relevance

At a time when many employees face a lot of negative news and consequences, often not related to their own actions, leaders need to remember to look at the bright side of things and highlight them. Many employees are anxious about the future of their roles and organisations, therefore emphasising on what’s going well and sharing plans for the future will have a positive effect. Leaders need to communicate more frequently what they might think is necessary, as it can reduce uncertainty and ensure that the messages are heard. Employees need to hear the same messages multiple times via different channels to understand and remember them.

A crisis often leads to restructuring the informal hierarchy of a team - both because what’s urgent and who’s important change. While the formal structure may be unchanged, the informal structure could be disrupted and needs to be realigned. Leaders need to be aware of this shift and see it as inflection point for the way their teams cooperate, not as a U-turn that leads back to familiar routines.

Understanding what information is relevant, encouraging simpler approvals, and putting the best talent against critical challenges is essential, both during and post crisis. Leaders who enable teams that can embrace new ways of working and leverage technology will thrive while maintaining their personal energy and balance. At Acumen we have over 21 years of experience in designing and delivering leadership development programmes that give leaders at all levels the practical tools to help solve real life challenges. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at

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