People crave leadership when they are afraid. But leading well during a crisis does not mean “faking it so people don’t freak out.” It doesn’t mean promising people all will be fine or lecturing them for being frightened.
Authenticity, honesty and relentless, reasoned optimism are the ingredients of leadership in a crisis. It means doing more of what you should already be doing as a leader — radiating calm, competence and compassion so the people being led are comforted by the leader’s presence and vision.
Like this horrible virus, fear and anxiety are contagious. People in crisis watch closely and over-interpret a leader’s every word, gesture and tone. They spot exaggeration or a lack of authenticity. Good leaders try to tell their people the truth always, but especially in crisis. They correct the inevitable misstatements during an emergency and they admit when they don’t know an answer. They are honest about the current crisis but clear-eyed about the path out of it.