LEADERSHIP IN A PANDEMIC: SAIL SAFELY THROUGH THE STORM WITH EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION
- Posted by: Faris Abd Rahman
- Category: Leadership
It is 1.15 pm on 19th September, I just came back from a meeting that is specific for COVID-19 management in our country. Yes, even though we’re heading in the direction of endemicity, the Ministry is keeping a close eye on COVID-19 and actively acting on COVID-19 matters. I set my bag on the floor of my office room, recline on my chair, and close my eyes. This is the moment when I am able to reflect on things that happen in the past. In retrospect, the pandemic had a profound effect on people’s health, quality of life, and the economy. Nonetheless, it was a valuable learning curve for us, and we benefited greatly from the experience. One of the important things that I learned from this, is that effective communication is the most critical part of handling a pandemic.
As we know, the severity of every crisis is different from one to another. The crisis that stemmed from a pandemic has not happened for a long time. This pandemic has brought tremendous uncertainty, increased distress and anxiety, and tunnel vision due to a limited understanding of the disease itself. Hence, it is of utmost importance for healthcare leaders to take charge of healthcare reform during the pandemic.
The good news is that the fundamental tools of effective communication still work. Healthcare leaders should clearly outline both short and long-term plans, as well as listen to and understand our stakeholders. This crisis presents an opportunity for leaders to expand their knowledge, and gain experience to eventually solidify their organizations through a lengthy period of unpredictability, and perhaps a crisis into a catalyst for positive change. The most effective crisis communicators frequently excel in three areas:
- Encourage Psychological safety
What makes the leader a great one? In 2014, the google analytical team embark on one research codename Aristotle Project to look for the standards of a good manager. They look into team performance, in which the manager of the team who has the best performance indicative of the best manager. After analyzing 180 Google teams, they found out there are five factors that influence the best team in Google. Interestingly, they clearly ranked one factor as the most important factor by a large margin, psychological safety.
Google team defines psychological safety as an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk or a belief that a team is safe for risk-taking in the face of being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive. In simple terms, the team members feel protected and confident to take risks around their team members and no one on the team will embarrass or penalize anyone else for admitting errors, asking questions, or offering a new idea. The leader who practiced psychological safety will ensure team members must feel comfortable enough to be themselves. When the team feels safe, they contribute to their full potential which eventually will benefit the whole organization.
- Maintain frequent, simple, and clear communication.
In the early part of the pandemic, there will be a huge influx of information and data that may easily overwhelm and lead to confusion among team members. To avoid confusion and allays anxiety among the team members, leaders should convey this information in a manner of simple, crystal clear, and understandable to employees. Once the employees understand the information and the plans, the leader needs to strategies how the employees can retain the information given. Here it is important the leader need repeat and reinforces the information given to the employees.
- Be an emphatic leader.
Good leaders must help employees cope psychologically with the trauma of abrupt adjustment to a new normal life. Empathy has always been a critical skill for leaders, but it is taking on a new level of meaning and priority during a crisis. Far from a soft approach, it can drive significant organizational results.
Leaders can demonstrate empathy in two ways. First, they can consider someone else’s thoughts through cognitive and emotional empathy. Secondly, leaders can express their concerns and inquire about challenges directly and then listen to employees’ responses. It is not necessary for leaders to be mental health experts in order to be an emphatic leaders. It is sufficient for the leader to check in, ask questions, and evaluate the employee’s willingness to communicate.
Great leadership also requires action. Empathy in action is understanding an employee’s struggles and offering to help. It is appreciating another person’s viewpoint and engaging in a productive argument that leads to a better solution. It involves considering a team member’s viewpoints and producing a new recommendation that contributes to increased achievement. As the popular saying goes, people may not remember what you say, but they will remember how you made them feel.
Effective communication contributes to positive relationships and organizational cultures and it also drives results. Good communication skills may not be a brand new skill, but it has a new level of importance and the new research makes it especially clear how communication is the leadership competency to develop and demonstrate now and in the future of work. After all, James Humes once said, ‘the art of communication is the language of leadership.
Faris Abd Rahman Ismail
Senior Chief Assistant Director,
Ministry of Health, Malaysia