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- Treating people with respect and dignity
- Being consistent and fair
- Keeping promises
- Being open and honest
- Doing what they say they will do
Those who fail to earn trust can expect trouble ahead.
“If a leader hasn’t done a good job of building trust, other people aren’t going to stick with them through the hard times,” says Denise Holmes, founder of Edge Leadership Consulting in Portland, Ore. “And people will misinterpret their actions and what they say, because when we have low trust, a lot of times we’ll assume more of a negative intention behind someone’s actions or words.”
Leaders who do a good job of communicating before a crisis will find it easier to keep the conversations going during one, says Larry Smith, senior consultant at the Institute for Crisis Management, a crisis communications consultancy in Louisville, Ky.
“If you don’t have much of a communicating relationship with key employees, when something goes wrong, they’re going to trust you even less because they’re not used to you talking to them,” he says.
But keeping an open dialogue with employees is imperative when the business has suffered a wound.
“Under-communicating is one of the biggest mistakes leaders make,” says Michael Roberto, a professor of management at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I. “If you think you’ve communicated enough, triple how much you communicate, because it’s never enough. People are dying to know more, and if you don’t [communicate], they will fill the void with rumor.”
Micromanaging in a crisis can make the situation worse.
“That can really crush people,” Roberto says. “Yes, you need to get back into the details in a crisis, but you don’t want to do it so severely or so permanently that you drive away some really good people,” he says.
After all, you’ll likely need their help, especially from those with dissenting views.
“Make sure you have some people around you who are thinking differently and offering different options and ideas,” Roberto says. “As a leader you have to cultivate that.”
After the tornado, Motazedi relied on the opinions not only of his talented team, but also of two CEOs of non-local IT firms.
“As a leader you have to understand whenever you’re starting to get out of your element,” Motazedi says. “I said, ‘I need someone who is not involved in this to assist me to make sure I’m making clear decisions.’”
4. Be Decisive
You may not make all the right decisions during a crisis, but you will have to make choices with the best information you have at the time, Papes says.
“Some people like to be 100 percent positive ‘this is the right thing to do’ and they wait too long,” he says. “You can be decisive even though you’re not absolutely sure.”
5. Channel Optimism
“Everybody’s focus at the water cooler is going to be about what went wrong,” Roberto says. “The leader’s job is in part to say, ‘Look, here’s what we’re doing right, and let’s make sure we execute that 100 percent.’”
It will also be important to get people thinking about what they’ve learned from the experience, what they should do differently, and about some small things they can accomplish to bring back some positive momentum, he says.
6. Be Courageous
Leadership means having the courage to do the right things for the business, Papes says. Sometimes, that means letting people go, which can be especially painful and difficult in tight-knit companies.
“So many small-business owners avoid laying people off due to personal relationships,” he says. “By not cutting unnecessary costs, an owner puts the employment of the entire organization at risk.”
7. Know Yourself
Motazedi has tons of experience helping clients with disaster recovery, and his comfort handling their crashed servers or other misfortunes was useful when the company faced its own calamity.
But the CEO also puts himself in fearful situations—like scuba diving in caves—that help him understand what happens to him when he starts experiencing stress. Not surprisingly, Motazedi has acquired more knowledge since the twister.
“What I learned about myself is this is about as bad as it gets,” he says, “and you can actually lead through this and you have people who respect you.”
Dallas-based freelance writer Mindy Charski has interviewed a number of great leaders throughout her career.
The NASE Can Help
The NASE Business Strategy Experts are ready to help you meet the challenges of running a micro-business—even in times of an emergency.
These professional, experienced small-business consultants can answer your questions about:
- Learning to lead in your business, your industry and your community
- Steps you should take to prepare your business for a crisis
- How to communicate more clearly and effectively
- Becoming a better boss for your employees
- Ways to build trust with your workers, your colleagues and your customers
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