In a moment of frustration, an old friend (a consultant in organizational development) blurted out: “in order to be CEO of a major corporation in America, one has to have a serious personality disorder and broadcast it widely.” We were in my office and, after we had a few laughs about it, I replied, “Truth is… everyone has a serious personality disorder. It’s just that, when you’re a CEO, it’s broadcast widely.” I might have added, “even more so if you’re a political leader.”
Whether in politics or corporate life, the chief executive is rarely the expert on what to do. However, he or she must be the expert on how to communicate what to do. The absence of clear, credible communication leaves people in a state of fear which, in turn, leads to panic and the spread of misinformation. People need to believe what their leaders are saying in order act responsibly and hang together as a community.
Clear communication means being honest about what is known and what is not. It means being open about what’s being done to find the answers and achieve the best outcomes. And, the pronouncements from on high must match the ground level reality. It does not reassure the public to say we can test everyone for coronavirus when everyone knows that’s not true. Indeed, it makes matters worse. It’s a breach of trust that leads to people not trusting anyone.
There is not a clear path to containing coronavirus, keeping the public safe or balancing the risk of disease against the need to keep the economy moving. In matters as complex as the pandemic, our leaders should encourage us to shed our tendency toward binary choices: extreme action versus fiddling while Rome burns. In such times, it’s important to be guided by principles and values. Despite our differences on fairness and the role of government, we share common values. We believe in the sanctity of human life; the reciprocal obligations within our communities; and, respect for the rights, differences and dignity of others.
So, what must be communicated? In a word – Hope! Hope makes our current situation more bearable. Hope provides motivation to contribute our efforts to our community. Hope links our current difficulties to a better future. During this pandemic, what we hold dear is what is most challenged. Our economic future is challenged; the health of our families is challenged; and, our psychological well-being is challenged. A message for a hopefulfuture must connect our current situation to a brighter future by being honest about what’s happening; communicating our plans to restore our communities; and, assuring the public of a consistent effort that marshals all our resources.
All of that can be communicated and should be communicated in spite of our personality disorders.
WHO WILL LEAD?