Have you ever considered why some people fail to follow the simple instructions of staying inside and/or practicing social distancing? We’ve witnessed an array of emotional and behavioral responses from panic buying to overtly confident teens partying on beaches amid the outbreak of the most horrific pandemic the world is witnessing. Before we blame the psychology of these folks for the failure to follow the COVID community response protocol, let’s take a step back and ponder on what type of communication and engagement incites such responses by people. What is the right leadership approach to promote and achieve a more positive and organized community responses? There is no one correct answer, however at Civy, we believe that engagement and outreach supported by facts, honesty, empathy and timely communication, goes a long way to guide publics actions towards a positive outcome.
Impact Learning Organization and High Impact Talent Management) has discussed the five lessons he learned about leadership from this crisis. According to him, some leaders “focus on empathy and compassion first, business second”, these are the ones who provide a sense of safety. Such leaders may be able to condense the panic and anxiety among the public. Their face and words on the digital and mainstream platform overpower the daunting facts of the reality. These leaders create a wave of unity and give the community a reason to believe in their optimism. However, concentrating solely on positivity steals away the community members’ ability to question the administration. A leader that discourages public questioning fails to address the ground level issues.
Second, leaders speak the facts; they do not shy from speaking the harsh truth. When honesty meets accurate and calming information about a crisis, it may diminish the anticipation of the worst possible outcome. If the facts are conveyed with a sense of fear and lack of faith, the leader’s honesty may lead people to thoughts of a hopeless future, and chaos.
Some strong “leaders focus on competence” by action implementation through the hands of the experts who use their knowledge and expertise to control and effectively execute plans. During 9/11 and the Katrina crisis, the leadership appointed experts to make the important decisions. When there is change in leadership, it is very crucial to convey to the members why change in power can bring rapid and necessary changes. It helps in building confidence in the action takers and helps gain community support as well.
Amidst crisis, there are also those leaders who come out as active listeners because when information is obtained from the ground level by first hand crisis respondents, the facts coming across are unfiltered. The frontline responders provide real time information which can be relied upon to build follow-up strategies and administrative planning. The most crucial necessity for the leaders is to build trust by embracing the disruption. In a crisis, it’s important for leaders to trust decision makers and crisis responders as opposed to centralized power control.
The similarity among each leadership type is the underlying characteristics of engagement and communication. When leaders provide the public with accurate information about the opportunities and risks, educate them on the consequences of their reactions, ease the public anxieties, and provide them with resources so they can seek further help, it helps build the community’s and the city’s resilience to keep working for betterment of all of us. Promoting a sense of safety can be achieved by empowering the individuals, families and organizations to take control of situations to a certain extent but in a guided and reliable fashion. This information has to come from a platform which can deliver trustworthy information, sourced directly from the public, as it increases a sense of connectedness, confidence and promotes community efficacy in responding to situations.
When the cities and governments act as leaders, public outreach and communication efforts can bring back focus from anger and helplessness to hope and faith. Civy provides the stage to showcase the face of the community through personal contacts, public messages, health care providers’ updates, community leaders, strategies, updated action plans, and education. These actions assure public’s involvement in helping guide the leaders in each decision-making process to improve service to the community.