Honing Leadership Communications In These Trying Times

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jason R. May
  • 50th Space Communications Squadron, IMA to the commander

It has been said that leaders, no matter how great, must constantly reinvent themselves. In other words, the leadership that got you “here” today will not get you “there” tomorrow. If you are not constantly reinventing yourself, you run the risk of putting your organization and mission in jeopardy. Our current fight against COVID-19 is a perfect opportunity to adapt and reinvent ourselves as leaders. If you have not already reevaluated your leadership communication style and skills in order to adapt to our current situation, you are already falling behind.

I often use the acronym RPM to assess the health of an organization. RPM stands for resources, people and mission. Much like the RPM gauge in your car, the RPM of your organization tells you how well things are running. I have always found that if you manage your resources well and take care of your people, the mission will be successful. Think about it, your people know their jobs, the mission, and how to get it done. Our job as leaders and supervisors is to provide them with the means to accomplish the mission and a support structure to care for themselves and their families. Low worry and high confidence is a direct result of our people believing and experiencing that the organization is looking out for their best interest.

Currently, not only do we have to maintain our mission effectiveness, but we now have to do it while avoiding close contact with each other. That’s a tall order for most military leaders and supervisors. We like to walk through our areas, see what our people are working on and make those very important personal connections. Those authentic personal connections with your people feeds their trust and loyalty to you, the mission, the Air Force, and now the Space Force.

Over-invest in communication. Now, more than ever, our IT capabilities are supporting us through this crisis in ways we could not have imagined six months ago. Learn them and use them as much as possible to create and maintain connections with your people. Be visible and positive. It is called a communication plan, but it should be called an understanding plan because having your people understand what you are conveying is even more important during a crisis that is unpredictable and volatile. Establish a communication routine. Ongoing reliability goes a long way with people and helps keep worries at a minimum. For example, instead of a weekly staff meeting, perhaps do a daily stand up. Not only does it allow you to stay on top of what is happening on a more constant basis, but it also lets you check on your people more often through these trying times. The mission is important of course, but without strong, healthy, resilient Airmen, the mission will not succeed. So over-invest in communication with your people, it pays huge dividends down the road.

When you communicate to your people a detailed flexible plan, a clear list of priorities is crucial. When people face a major crisis, human behavior either runs toward fear or works towards rallying together. The latter only happens when leadership emerges with a clear plan. If you provide a clear way forward, your people will show amazing resilience. Effective leadership empowers managers to make decisions within a clear construct of set priorities, such as keeping our people safe and behaving ethically. Providing unclear, or worse, inconsistent priorities, does not do you, your people or the mission any good.

Remember the old adage, “Crisis does not build character, it reveals it.” Always keep in mind; your people will remember how they were treated during this crisis. An employee’s loyalty and engagement thrives on knowing their chain of command cares about them. For leaders at all levels, this COVID-19 crisis presents an opportunity to be a defining moment not only for yourself, but for your organization as well. Be present, even if only virtually, be authentic, as to not lose their trust, and lead accordingly.