Reda Raad, chief executive of communications group TBWA\RAAD, on how true leaders should address the current crisis.
Just a few short months ago, the year ahead looked promising and prosperous. Now, the talk is of mere survival. The sheer scale of the unfolding crisis has led to panic and paralysis on a global scale, but there are ways to combat the spread of fear and instability.
Firstly, leadership. Emergencies place a huge strain on company leaders, both physically and mentally, and nothing will have prepared them for this. The old belief is that company directors should lead from the front; the key word here is visibility – by that, I mean visible decisiveness, leadership and a clear commitment to the strategies being put in place. If a company has divided its organization in two, asking half of its employees to work from home and half to continue working at the office, its executives must do both, not stick to whichever they prefer.
Then, there are the calming effects of reassurance and resolute action. When Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE, said the three words “La tshiloon hem” (Do not worry), he delivered the type of leadership we should all aspire to. It was calm, confident, decisive.
Secondly, companies need to communicate at a previously unprecedented level – not to the extent that information is being ignored or dismissed, but regularly and concisely enough to build confidence, to calm and reassure, and to relieve any doubts that may exist amongst both employees and clients. Communicate, communicate, communicate. I simply can’t stress that enough. The health of your employees and of your company depends on it.
And if there was ever a time for brands to make good on their claims of social responsibility, or to give substance to all that talk of purpose, it’s now. For years, brands have been telling us they can help address society’s ills, solve challenging global issues, and contribute to the building of a safer, fairer and better world. Well, now’s the time for action. Put profit and the eternal quest for growth to one side and provide help to those in need. Put the considerable power at your disposal to good use and think of the wider community. After all, how often is a brand given the opportunity to add real substance to its words?
Ask yourselves, how can we help? How can we do our bit? How can we repurpose what it is that we do and contribute to the fight against covid-19? There are examples of such behavior already. Hotels across the world have offered rooms to medical staff, providing extra capacity to struggling health services, despite their own plummeting finances. For advertising agencies, whose knowledge and expertise centers on communication, ask, too, how you can provide concise, life-saving information at the right place and the right time.
Finally, it may sound obvious but remain cool. Panic is contagious and unpleasant but it will pass. In its place will come acceptance and, ultimately, recovery. That’s what brands should navigate towards- Recovery. Don’t use any current instability or uncertainty as an excuse to spring clean or to jettison the unloved. How many times have you said that your greatest asset is your employees? Don’t forget that now. Not when they need you the most. In time, this too will pass and those companies that have remained loyal to their staff will emerge stronger.
This is an opportunity for us to strengthen our bonds as people, as communities, as societies. It’s a test, not only of an organization’s culture and fortitude but of us as human beings. Of us as a civilization. And I firmly believe that, together, we can emerge from this stronger and more resilient than ever.
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