Monday, November 19, 2012

Leaders Don't Need to Add to the Excitement

In times of stress and uncertainty, staff need calm, confident leaders.  They don't need leaders who "add to the excitement" by emphasizing the urgency or criticality or the risk and uncertainty the organization faces.

This was certainly true in a military context where risk and danger are inherently part of daily life, whether  in garrison or deployed.  I found it was also true in the private sector.  There are a number of things that evoke stress in the private sector workforce.  Poor business results, reductions in force, projects that are overdue and/or over budget, mergers and acquisitions and reorganizations all have the power to paralyze a workforce.  Workers seldom need to be reminded of the seriousness or urgency of a challenge.

What they do need is calm, confident leaders who are open, honest and keep them informed.  Silence in times of stress can be just as corrosive to morale as emphasizing the urgency of a situation.  Everyone wants to be in control and some of the situations I've described above can make them feel out of control.  They look to a leader to help guide them through the uncertainty and turbulence,  even if the outcome isn't in their favor.  Keeping people informed when the rumors are swirling is especially important.  Staff will make up a story to fill an information vacuum based on prior experience or fragmentary data.  De-bunking rumors can become a full time job.

A leader cannot over-communicate in times of stress and change.

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