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The world has often witnessed shocking acts of terror and tragedy which have not always been handled well by people in leadership. Of particular concern to many some time ago for instance, was response to the June 14th Grenfell Tower Fire in London, England. 

Clearly, humanity is seeking not just efficient leadership but an empathetic leadership as well. Despite the technology we are steeped in and the barriers we often put up, people are still people, craving for meaningful connection with others. 

This led me to reflect on simple ways crisis can be effectively acknowledged and handled in business in order to build confidence and loyalty amongst clientele and stakeholders alike. Inspirational leadership in a nutshell. Do read on, comment and share to inspire others. 

“Despite the technology we are steeped in and the barriers we often put up, people are still people – craving for meaningful connection with others.”

Ọgọ Ogbata 

#1. Acknowledge Facts and Feelings:

In his article for Inc.Com, Justin Bariso describes how Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, responds with empathy and emotional intelligence after a California worker-safety advocacy group, Worksafe, made headlines by reporting that injury rate at Tesla’s Fremont plant was over 30% higher than the industry average in 2014 and 2015.

Elon Musk demonstrated how seriously he was taking the issue by responding publicly to the issues raised. Here’s part of an email which he sent to his employees, as reported by news site Electrek.

“No words can express how much I care about your safety and wellbeing. It breaks my heart when someone is injured building cars and trying their best to make Tesla successful. Going forward, I’ve asked that every injury be reported directly to me, without exception…”

Notice how emotional the tone is? He actually uses words like ‘it breaks my heart’ – not the sort of language you would commonly hear from corporate CEOs.

Think about your own business. How can you improve how you communicate with empathy – especially when things go wrong? You don’t have to use over the top language or put on an act. Some people are more expressive than others for instance and we all express emotion in different ways. However, there is a need for an appropriate expression of empathy that is authentically yours. 

#2. Ask for Feedback: 

Showing empathy is not enough. One also needs to engage concerned parties in conversation in order to thoroughly understand pain points and needs. The same way you would survey your marketplace before launcing a product or service, is the same way due dilligence is required before launching any initiatives in response to the crisis.

In the email referenced above, Tesla Ceo, Elon Musk is quoted thus:

“I’m meeting with the safety team every week and would like to meet every injured person as soon as they are well, so that I can understand from them exactly what we need to do to make it better. I will then go down to the production line and perform the same task that they perform. This is what all managers at Tesla should do as a matter of course. At Tesla, we lead from the front line, not from some safe and comfortable ivory tower. Managers must always put their team’s safety above their own…”

Quoting Justin Bariso of Inc.Com, “If Musk proves true to his word, it will be a remarkable example of a company leader who’s willing to do what it takes to affect change and show that he isn’t afraid to get down in the trenches.”

Think about your own business. How can you engage concerned parties in conversation during a crisis in order to thoroughly understand people’s pain points and needs? Can you invite conversation, run a survey or just listen without bias? 

#3. Make it Personal:

It is incredibly important to respond in a way that shows that a human being is actually responding – not a robot in camouflage. For instance, if you hear that an employee or colleague is bereaved, do you dispense the standard ‘sorry for your loss’ or do you dig deeper in your reservoir of life experience so you can establish common ground? E.g. “How painful that must feel. I lost a family member (some time ago) too and I am sorry this has happened to you.

Warning: when making a personal response, there is a fine line between referencing similar experience and making the whole thing about you. Tread carefully.

In his TEDx talk, Dr Gregory Ciottone, an American traumatologist and an expert whose services have been employed in more than 30 countries all over the world (e.g. whilst leading a team into Haiti following the 2010 earthquake and serving as commander of one of the first federal disaster medical assistance teams into Ground Zero during the World Trade Center disaster on September 11th 2001), talks about the need to compartmentalise and set aside one’s personal issues as a leader facing crisis. Ironically, in order to make a suitably personal response, we need to set our own personal issues aside for a moment. In other words, you may be having a bad day of your own but when crisis arises, you need to think of others first as a leader.

In the TEDx video below, Joseph Logan, an executive coach, explains that crisis is always personal, a shared human experience and that the most creative periods of our lives often come afterwards.

It was as a result of the cultural crisis of his time that Martin Luther King had a dream which inspired his generation and millions more till this day. However, leaders who fail to plan will inevitably plan to fail. It is best to prepare for how we will handle crisis before it even occurs.

#4. Be Creative and Practical:

After all is said, something also needs to be done – big or small. This is an opportunity for leaders to do some creative thinking and execute simple solutions that are aligned with common decency as well as brand values.

In 2005, The Guardian in the UK reported that “5 children of a woman murdered last year have been left struggling to make ends meet after her employer, Sainsbury’s, paid out a death-in-service lump sum of just £1,100. Rival retailers such as Tesco and Marks & Spencer would have awarded the family up to 50 times as much.”

Think about your own business…

If an employee gets injured at work, does it suffice to send a generic get well soon card and some vouchers in the post or can you do something more practical like helping out the family with what they say they need (not necessarily what you think they need)?

Can you do something more creative so the gesture comes across as uniquely thoughtful, caring and kind?

In Summary:

We have examined 4 simple yet powerful ways to handle crisis as a leader in business:

#1. Acknowledge Facts and Feelings,

#2. Ask for Feedback,

#3. Make it Personal,

#4. Be Creative and Practical,

Which of these methods are you already using and which would you like to implement more creatively in your business communication? How can you prepare for how you will handle crisis before it even occurs? Think about it.

Next Steps To Success:

#1. Comment below to share your views, inspire others and increase your visibility on LinkedIn. I am always learning and would like to read your insights too.

#2. Need some creative help with enhancing your communication skills or developing your team in this area? Would you like to create an authority positioning platform for your business but don’t have the time to do it all on your own? Send me a private message through LinkedIn to find out how we can help you. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ọgọ (pronounced ‘or-gore’) is the Founder/Director at Creativity and Sense Consulting. She helps forward thinking business owners, experts and leaders in the creative and service industries develop themselves, their teams and their marketplace leadership using creative thinking.

From out of the box personal and business development training for leaders and teams to innovative platform building services – for experts who are too busy to write, she’s got it covered.

The author of several books (e.g. a historical novel and a business title – plus a variety of content in media such as The BBC, The Independent Blog, Training Journal, Training Zone, Better Business Focus and Talent Engagement Review), she is certified in Business Mentoring from the award winning University of Northampton Business School.

Would you like to learn How To Unlock Inspiration and Get Your Creative Juices Flowing in 7 Days or Less? Click Here to download the Free Creativity Blueprint! 

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The Editor

Ogo Ogbata is a writer, teacher, innovator and strategist.

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