Obviously, we are living through an extraordinary and unprecedented situation in the world today—both personally and professionally.
Collectively, we are all doing our best to reimagine how we live as well as how we work. Given that the crisis has created an unimaginable level of uncertainty as well as anxiety across the globe, leaders need to be doing a good deal of soul searching about what matters most now.
To that end, I’ve given much thought over the last week about what executive presence needs to look like from leaders in the face of this crisis.
Over the past five years, I’ve worked with thousands of leaders on executive presence, coaching 400 or 500 of them individually after they received feedback from their manager, peers, direct reports and others on executive presence. Based on my work with these leaders and my understanding of the science behind executive presence and influence, here are the facets that leaders most need to demonstrate now—and how to make them actionable.
This quality reflects how much the leader is perceived as steady in a time of crisis. Basically, emotions are contagious—for better and worse!
What to do now. Be “real” about the crisis—don’t downplay the reality or magnitude of it. Allow some time to check in with people about how they’re feeling today about the crisis. But then you want to make sure everyone is generating light rather than heat. Get everyone to focus on how to make course corrections: What can be done to address today’s concerns while anticipating tomorrow’s downstream consequences?
The quantity and quality of two-way communication between the leader and others will be important than ever during this crisis.
What to do now. You can create a greater sense of calm by ensuring that there is predictability about how and when you exchange ideas and concerns with your team. Consider announcing a more frequent cadence of meetings for the immediate future. As the news and outlook changes several times a week, make sure people aren’t left to wonder what’s happening and why. Staying in touch regularly also means that you’ll keep your finger on the pulse of what others wants and need right now.
While meeting more regularly is a great step, this crisis also means that you need to be able to dig deeply into understanding everyone’s hopes, fears, and needs.
What to do now. Make a point of asking questions that surface what others are thinking, feeling, and planning to do. Failing to do so will make you run the risk of appearing “tone deaf” during a crisis. Take it a step further and pick up on the nonverbal behavior of others, as people often will show what they’re feeling before they’re willing or able to say what’s in their head or heart. If you notice body language that seems troubled or uncertain, hit the pause button and ask questions to find out what’s really going on. That‘s why video is such an advantage over a simple phone call when working remotely. More than ever, people need to know that their leaders care about how they’re doing.
In addition to being a good listener and focusing on others during a time of crisis, you need to balance that by being candid, transparent, and genuine about what you yourself share.
What to do now. In the face of so much uncertainty right now, you may be tempted to “wait and see” and go silent. But if you do, the risk is that people will fill that void with their own assumptions—and those often can turn negative. This leads to more churn, distraction, and disengagement. Even when you don’t have all the answers, you need to be talking to people—sharing at least the process of what will happen even if you don’t yet have the content.
Authenticity is strongly linked to Vision. In both cases, people need to understand the why behind the what—the intent behind the content.
What to do now. With Vision, you need make that “why” come alive by telling the story of the road ahead and why everyone should feel a sense of mission and purpose about that. If you’re not sure about what that vision of the future should be, the first step may be to go on a “vision listening tour” in order to “crowdsource” ideas. Another idea would be to create a short-term vision: What do we need to focus on for the next few weeks at least? Providing clarity about what everyone’s doing and why will help keep people energized through difficult times.
All 15 facets of executive presence can be valuable in a time of crisis. But for now, focus on these five qualities. If you have a strength in one of these facets, now is the time to leverage it. If one of these qualities is more difficult for you, get help from a trusted advisor, mentor, or coach to make sure it’s not a derailer during this challenging time.
Above all, remember that this crisis represents not only a challenge but unique opportunity for you and your organization. By displaying these qualities, you can position your organization to find its way through a dark moment in history and move toward a brighter dawn.
For more resources on leading through these unprecedented times, click here.