Throughout this module on crisis leadership, you have learned a great deal about the roles crisis leaders should be prepared to assume, how crisis leaders should BE, what they should KNOW, and what stakeholders expect them to DO during a crisis. We have focused very little, however, on crisis communication. Unfortunately, there is simply not enough time in this short course to do the subject justice. Still, it is a critical high stakes leadership skill – one that you should make a commitment to develop.
In the following three examples, you will gain an appreciation for how senior leaders have chosen to communicate with their stakeholder audiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first example is an editorial titled What 9/11 Taught Us About Leadership in a Crisis by Stanley McChrystal and Chris Fussell. Mr. McChrystal is a former US Army general and the founder of the McChrystal Group. Mr. Fussell is a former US Navy Seal and the president of the McChrystal Group. This article first appeared as an Op-Ed in the New York Times on March 24, 2020. In it, the authors describe post-9/11 military leadership lessons that can also serve as lessons for business leaders as they cope with the impact of COVID-19 on their organizations.
The second example is a message to the 23,000 crewmembers (i.e., employees) of JetBlue Airways from CEO Robin Hayes and President/COO Joanna Geraghty as it was offered on March 18, 2020. As you read through this message, consider what you have learned about crisis leadership in this module, and how the letter to crewmembers illustrates some of the roles crisis leaders are expected to assume as well as elements of the BE, KNOW, DO framework that was presented.
The third example is a message from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to his nearly 850,000 “Amazonians” on March 21, 2020. Once again, you should be able to see in this message a commitment to transparency, gratitude, focus, and several examples of items from the BE, KNOW, DO framework.
Please read very slowly and deliberately through each of these messages. As you do, consider first the responsibilities of a high stakes leader during a crisis. What do you see in each of these messages that demonstrates a clear commitment to these responsibilities? How clearly does each of them demonstrate how leaders should BE during a crisis? What they should KNOW? And what they should DO?
Second, think about the target audience of each message. The first reading is clearly targeted at business leaders broadly, but try to imagine the message General McCrystal, as the top US commander of forces in Afghanistan, would be communicating to the layers of leadership overseeing 100,000+ troops. The second and third readings below are targeted at employees. What do you believe these employees wanted to hear from their leaders? What did they need to hear from them? How did these messages meet these needs?
Crisis communication is a critical skill for high stakes leaders. A true measure of crisis communication effectiveness is the ability to demonstrate a readiness to respond to the interests and needs of stakeholders. What do you see in these three messages that illustrates remarkably high levels of capability in this regard?General Stanley McCrystal – NY Times OpEdJetBlue Executive TeamJeff Bezos to Amazonians