Executive Messaging During COVID-19

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By Josh Williams, Ph.D.

The true test of leadership is how well you function in a crisis.” – Brian Tracy

The Importance of Large-Scale Communication
Executive leadership skills are tested in crisis. Senior leaders are facing challenges now that not only threaten the survival of their companies but the lives of their employees and those they serve. As you may have noticed, leaders are now sending mass emails out to the public addressing their response to COVID-19. These email blasts represent a great opportunity for leaders to connect directly with the public to share their vision and values during this crisis. Unfortunately, many of these messages feel canned and generic and simply miss the mark.

A Notable Exception
One exception is a recent email from Ed Bastion, CEO of Delta Airlines. He did a number of things that other leaders should mirror in constructing their own messaging to the public. Rather than pasting the entire message into this blog, a few highlights will be provided. The top of the message says Committed to Keeping You Informed: Your Update from Ed. Leading with a commitment to transparency is a smart move, especially when the public is seeking clear information. Also, ‘your update from Ed’ sounds conversational not corporate. The email is addressed to me, using my name, which feels more personal than greetings other leaders have used like “to our customers,” “dear valued customers,” or “to everyone.” Bastion acknowledges the stress/uncertainty this crisis brings and reminds us to practice social distancing to keep yourselves and others safe. He also details specific behaviors they are taking during this crisis (e.g., removing germ-rich items from seat-back pockets, using EPA-registered disinfectant for cleaning). He also provides a Q&A text hotline for concerned travelers along with links to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). He also outlines their efforts to make life easier for travelers (e.g., waiving change fees, extending member benefits).

Bastion concludes by thanking the public for the personal well wishes he’s received and for those comments praising his staff. He also reiterates their corporate values of service, integrity and honesty. This is a rare example when corporate vision statements feel genuine. He also signs his name at the bottom of the email. This small gesture shows he’s taking personal ownership for actions and not delegating this assignment to anyone else.

Take Action
It can be challenging for executives to personalize mass communications, especially during this crisis. This one example shows steps leaders should take when communicating with the public including:
- Make it personal
- Be transparent
- Acknowledge the stress people are feeling
- Detail specific action items taken
- Thank the public and show appreciation
- Be authentic

At this time, it’s extremely important for executives to demonstrate strong leadership. One avenue for this is to effectively correspond with customers who are receiving an onslaught of corporate communications. Take these steps to stand out from the crowd and send a message that is thoughtful, relevant, and real.