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A version of this post appeared in CommPro.biz.

Last week Cornell University’s Alliance for Science published the first comprehensive study of coronavirus misinformation in the media, and concluded that President Trump is likely the largest driver of the such misinformation.

Lost in the News Cycle

In any other administration this would have led the news for at least a week.

But the report came five days after President Donald J. Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court. It came four days after publication of a massive New York Times investigation that revealed that President Trump paid no federal income taxes for years. It came just two days after the debate debacle in which the President refused to condemn white supremacy and seemed to endorse the Proud Boys. And it came just hours before the news that the President and First Lady had tested positive for COVID-19.

I wish the President and the First Lady a speedy and complete recovery.

But it is important that this news not be lost, and that the President be held accountable for the consequences of his words, actions, and inaction.

Language, Inaction, and Consequences

I am a professor of ethics, leadership, and communication at Columbia University and New York University. This summer my book about Trump’s language and how it inspires violence was published. I finished writing Words on Fire: The Power of Incendiary Language and How to Confront It in February. But since then the effect of Trump’s language has been even more dangerous.

In the book, I document how charismatic leaders use language in ways that set a powerful context that determines what makes sense to their followers. Such leaders can make their followers believe absurdities, which then can make atrocities possible. If COVID-19 is a hoax, if it will magically disappear, if it affects only the elderly with heart problems, then it makes sense for people to gather in large crowds without social distancing or masks.

There’s just one problem. None of that is true. But Trump said all those things. And his followers believed him. And the President and his political allies refused to implement policies to protect their citizens.

What The President Knew, and When The President Knew It

As I write this, 210,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 and the President is being treated for it at Walter Reed Military Medical Center.

But it didn’t have to happen. Three weeks ago Dr. Irwin Redlener, head of Columbia University’s Pandemic Resource and Response Initiative, estimated that if the nation had gone to national masking and lock-down one week earlier in March, and had maintained a constant masking and social distancing policy, 150,000 of fatalities could have been avoided.

Trump knew about the severity of the virus in February and March.

In taped discussions Trump told Washington Post Associate Editor Bob Woodward what he knew about how dangerous COVID-19 is:

  • It is spread in the air
  • You catch it by breathing it
  • Young people can get it
  • It is far deadlier than the flu
  • It’s easily transmissible
  • If you’re the wrong person and it gets you, your life is pretty much over. It rips you apart
  • It moves rapidly and viciously.
  • It is a plague

But he was telling the nation the opposite.

“Infodemic” of COVID-19

The Report Cover

President Trump likes to label anything he doesn’t agree with Fake News. But it turns out that he’s the largest disseminator of misinformation about Coronavirus.

Cornell University’s Alliance for Science analyzed 38 million pieces of content published in English worldwide between January 1 and May 26, 2020. It identified 1.1 million news articles that “disseminated, amplified or reported on misinformation related to the pandemic.”

On October 1, 2020 the Alliance published its report. It notes,

“These findings are of significant concern because if people are misled by unscientific and unsubstantiated claims about the disease, they may attempt harmful cures or be less likely to observe official guidance and thus risk spreading the virus.”

Its conclusion:

“One major finding is that media mentions of President Trump within the context of different misinformation topics made up 37% of the overall ‘misinformation conversation,’ much more than any other single topic.

The study concludes that Donald Trump was likely the largest driver of the COVID-19 misinformation ‘infodemic.’

In contrast only 16% of media mentions of misinformation were explicitly ‘fact-checking’ in nature, suggesting that a substantial quantity of misinformation reaches media consumers without being challenged or accompanied by factually accurate information.”

But Trump may be responsible for more than the 37% of the news stories that name him. The report says that

” a substantial proportion of other topics was also driven by the president’s comments [but did not explicitly name him], so some overlap can be expected.

Graphic from Cornell Alliance for Science Report

The most prevalent misinformation was about miracle cures. More than 295,000 stories mentioned some version of a miracle cure. (Note that the study looked only at stories that were published before the end of May, long before the president’s statements about a vaccine being ready by the end of October.)

The report notes that Trump prompted a surge of miracle cure stories when he spoke of using disinfectants internally and advocated taking hydroxychloroquine.

The second most prevalent topic, mentioned in nearly 50,000 stories, was that COVID had something to do with the “deep state.” The report notes,

“Mentions of conspiracies linked to alleged secret “new world orders” or ‘deep state’ government bodies existed throughout the time period and were referenced in passing in conversations that mentioned or listed widespread conspiracies. Indeed, President Trump joked about the US State Department being a ‘Deep State’ Department during a White House COVID press conference in March.”

The third most prevalent misinformation was about COVID-19 being a Democratic hoax, mentioned in more than 40,000 stories.

 

Human Consequences of Misinformation

The report closes with a warning: Misinformation has consequences:

“It is especially notable that while misinformation and conspiracy theories promulgated by ostensibly grassroots sources… do appear in our analysis in several of the topics, they contributed far less to the overall volume of misinformation than more powerful actors, in particular the US President.

In previous pandemics, such as the HIV/AIDS outbreak, misinformation and its effect on policy was estimated to have led to an additional 300,000 deaths in South Africa alone.

If similar or worse outcomes are to be avoided in the present COVID-19 pandemic, greater efforts will need to be made to combat the “infodemic” that is already substantially polluting the wider media discourse.”

In my book, I help engaged citizens, civic leaders, and public officials recognize dangerous language and then confront those who use it. I urge such citizens and leaders to hold those who use such language responsible for the consequences.

I wish President Trump a full and fast recovery. He and those closest to him have now been affected by their own denial of science. I hope that now he can start to model appropriate safe behavior.

But even as Trump is being treated in the hospital his campaign says it will stay the course, including an in-person rally for Vice President Mike Pence the day after the vice-presidential debate in several days. This is both irresponsible and dangerous.

I urge civic leaders, engaged citizens, and public officials, regardless of party, to stop having super-spreader events such as in-person rallies. And finally to begin modeling responsible behavior: Wear a mask, maintain social distancing. Masking and distancing are not political acts; they are a civic responsibility.

NEW YORK (May 13, 2020) — As the nation begins implementing plans to reopen, Logos Consulting Group will continue practicing social distancing while also providing the personal touch our clients expect.

“Connecting closely with clients is and always will be our highest priority, in whatever form that takes,” said Helio Fred Garcia, president of Logos Consulting Group. “These are some of the hardest times for many leaders and organizations, which is why it is more important than ever before for us to be available.”

Logos Consulting Group helps leaders and their organizations manage choices when stakes are high, communicate effectively when trust is on the line, and strengthen leadership skills to inspire action.

“We have been advising institutions and their leaders directly in the midst of COVID-19,” added Garcia. “Right now, we’re providing immediate counsel to clients in both our crisis management and crisis communication practice, as well as virtual coaching for multiple leadership levels and designated spokespeople.”

Logos Consulting Group has also been studying trends on leadership in COVID-19 and has written and spoken extensively about these findings. Logos associates have spoken publicly at a variety of webinars, virtual conferences, and coaching sessions including the Defense Innovation Network, Public Relations Society of America, Professional Speechwriters Association/Executive Communication Council, and others to include events for our clients. Topics have included best practices in communication during COVID-19, maintaining powerful presence in a remote environment, effective social media messaging, and more.

“This is not the end of the crisis, it is the end of the beginning,” said Garcia. “We are not slowing down, and if anything, we are making ourselves more available than ever before by guiding our clients through this crisis.”

To explore how Logos Consulting Group can help you, contact us via email here or via our website here.

 

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“When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.”

~ George Washington Carver

So: You’re wearing a mask and keeping a socially responsible distance. You’re staying safe but taking long daily walks in the nearly empty streets of New York City to keep yourself healthy and sane. You peer into the dark, empty storefronts as you stroll along. You arrive at the place you always found familiar and comforting; it now looks abandoned and forbidding. There is no human to greet you, only a few words on a single page attached to the front door. Almost every door on every street has a similar sign.

As the days of shutdown have dragged on, I’ve become intrigued by these signs, snapping pictures of at least 100 of them. I’ve read the words again and again. They are breathtaking in their sameness, leading me to the question: How much difference can a few words on a simple sign possibly make?

Businesses reopening in the aftermath of the current crisis may soon find out.

Sometimes the message on the door is just one word – “Closed.” Not terribly helpful, is it? That feels more like the end of a relationship than a reassurance that you and your spot will be reunited in the future.

While heavily trafficked commercial chains may have a following who look for convenience alone, a cozy neighborhood haunt cannot exist without building an emotional bond – appreciation, affection, even love – with its customers. When that business closes indefinitely, or its hours are suddenly and severely curtailed, anxious customers need to see words of gratitude, emotion, and empathy: “We thank you.” “We appreciate you.” “We miss you.” “We understand what you are going through because we are going through it, too.”

Empathy should start right there at the front door.

Surprisingly, even in these difficult times, when those words of connectivity matter most, when customers expect to find love letters from deeply grateful owners, they find crisis boilerplate instead, often written in haste, dashed off as a formality and perhaps copied from a neighboring establishment. Even worse, sometimes, the desired words do not appear at all.

That strategically placed sheet of paper – occasionally drafted with the assistance of a lawyer or a communications professional – may be instructive but it’s not terribly personal. Or authentic. Or meaningful.

That kind of corporate jargon often makes me stop reading – I imagine you know the phrases: “our top priority,” “we are closely monitoring,” “we are committed to …”  But owners use them because they know they need to communicate quickly with customers coming to the door, and they want the message to sound official. Professional communicators reading this will understand that the sign on the door is a kind of stand-by statement to let the entire world, including those critical customers, know what is going on in that moment and what they can expect while the crisis – and temporary closure – continues.

As my colleague, Helio Fred Garcia, has written in The Agony of Decision: Mental Readiness and Leadership in a Crisis, an insightful guide to crisis decision-making (even during one not of your own making), critical communications like that sign on the door should embrace five fundamental elements:

  1. ACKNOWLEDGMENT – a statement of awareness that something has happened.
  2. EMPATHY – an expression of empathy or sympathy to those who are hurting or inconvenienced – and in COVID-19 times, everyone is hurting and inconvenienced.
  3. VALUES – a declaration of the business’ values – including how much that business values those customers.
  4. APPROACH – a summary of the actions the business is taking in the wake of the crisis.
  5. COMMITMENT – a statement that sets future expectations, i.e., “We will keep you up-to-date as we hear any important news and will let you know when we can reopen. We will be here for you online even while we are closed.”

[For a quick summary of these elements, see the Leadership Lesson on Standby Statements]

In all fairness, I’m sure these independent owners also mean to communicate how much they love and miss their customers. But their words – crafted out of necessity and in great haste from a template – don’t quite resonate. They don’t quite say: We are closed, but we miss you and are still there for you.

Contrast those signs with recent updates that a certain coffee company has posted on Instagram – the digital front door for many contemporary consumers. Note the likes and comments.

So, for owners of shuttered businesses – small or large, mighty or nimble – here are two important questions you should ask yourself:

1. How can you communicate your message in conversational human language, rather than boilerplate jargon? You’re dealing with ordinary humans. Why not sound like one?

2. How can you include a message of gratitude at the very top of the page? Owners should express their sincere thanks to the customer who has arrived at the door in the first sentence or two. What would happen if the language of the sign started there? Only good things, I promise you.

Here are some signs that hit the mark beautifully. Which ones do you like best?

One last thought: many of the signs that I see on the doors have been left there unchanged for weeks.

Dear shop owners— It’s not too late to change that sign!

Love,

Your Devoted Customer

“It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”

— Leon C. Megginson

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a crash course on adaptability.

Our ability to adapt is a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit as millions sit inside their homes and wait for the storm to pass. Many have had to adapt to working from home and caring for or supervising children while managing logistics that were mandated almost overnight. Others have had no choice but to grapple with the harsh realities and risks of being an essential worker. Many are furloughed or unemployed, trying to figure out their next steps and future options in an uncertain world. And almost everyone was faced with steep and sudden learning curves, whether setting up a home office effectively or serving as teaching assistants for their children’s online learning.

Adaptability is essential for organizations. Companies and enterprises that have not adapted well, or adapted fast enough, have suffered serious consequences. Some have succumbed already, and others will not survive. Many companies that adapted quickly are still viable, but will need to re-invent and reconfigure to sustain that viability over the long term. However, organizations that have adapted in meaningful ways that demonstrate caring are doing more than just surviving.

In the midst of deep uncertainty, a number of companies have already responded to the COVID-19 challenge and distinguished themselves by shifting their services and product lines to meet the highest-priority needs of their consumers, employees, and communities. For example, alcohol distilleries and major beauty and health companies, Sporting apparel companies, such as Fanatics and Bauer Hockey, have been producing gowns, masks, and face shields. Walk-in food outlets like Panera Bread, and even specialty chains, such as Edible Arrangements, have shifted their operation models to grocery delivery services. And to meet the needs of home-bound exercisers, gym chains like Planet Fitness offer livestream workouts that anyone, member or nonmember, can access for free.

These are just a few examples of companies that recognized a need, both internally and externally, and used their ingenuity to adapt in unexpected and creative ways. As a result, these organizations are not only more likely to survive this immediate crisis, but will also bolster their reputations and increase their competitive advantage going forward.

Adaptability is a leadership discipline. The ability to be nimble and adapt effectively during a crisis is essential not only for survival, but for opportunity and growth. Failure to adapt when circumstances change will cost you and your organization greatly.

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to evolve, leaders and organizations need to be on adaptation alert as circumstances change. And when the pandemic finally ends, organizations must be prepared to adapt yet again in a post-COVID-19 world, whatever that will look like.

In studying companies that have adapted both well and poorly during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve identified several questions that can serve as a Logos Best Practice rubric to help guide thinking about how to adapt effectively.

When confronted with changing circumstances, ask:

  • What is required for your organization to continue to operate? What level of revenue is required to cover costs? What tools or resources do you or your employees need to continue to function?
  • What is your mission? What is your organization’s goal? What are you designed to do? Does your mission need to evolve in the present moment?
  • What are your core values? What values are embedded in your mission, culture, and business model?
  • Whom do you serve? Who are the stakeholders that matter most to your organization? Are there new or different stakeholders you should be serving?
  • What are the urgent or important needs of your stakeholders? In this moment of crisis, what matters most to your stakeholders? What do your internal and external stakeholders need?
  • What do those who matter most expect from you? How do your stakeholders expect you to live your mission and values? How have their expectations changed amid the crisis?
  • What is your unique competitive advantage? What can your organization uniquely offer? How can you fulfill your mission in a way that provides an essential or important product or service during this crisis?

The answers to these questions will help you think about how to adapt in ways that not only support short-term survival, but also pave the way for long-term success.

Leaders are judged based on how they deal with their biggest challenges.

In the COVID-19 crisis we see a contrast of leaders so stark that it can serve as a leadership laboratory for future generations to study.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo shows a steady, compassionate, and urgent tone as he informs New Yorkers and the broader world about the reality of COVID-19 in his state. His briefings are direct, honest, consistent, and clear. He sprinkles his commentary with expressions of concern for health workers and hospital patients, he invokes his parents, his brother, and his daughters. And he tells the truth.

President Donald Trump, on the other hand, shows none of these qualities. He bungled the first two months of the pandemic in the U.S. He denied the severity of the virus and downplayed the risk of contagion. He alternates between the rosy – churches full at Easter – and the gloomy – social distancing for much longer. There is still not a whole-of-government response. Rather, there are fragments of a government response. He leaves it to governors to figure out supply chains, even as governors confess that they’re bidding against each other – and the federal government – to secure desperately-needed medical equipment.

President Trump heaps praise on himself and expects others to do as well. He recently bragged during a COVID-19 press briefing that he was the most popular person on Facebook.

Governor Cuomo, who, according to Politico, has a “long-standing revulsion to social media,” has nevertheless “rapidly emerged as an internet star.” (Earlier this week, #Cuomosexual was trending on Twitter.)

President Trump contradicts his own public health experts, who then have to clean up the mess in his absence. He improvises on the existence of testing equipment, medical equipment, and miracle drugs that don’t exist. He violates every principle of effective leadership in a crisis.

Winston Churchill admonished, “You must look at the facts because the facts look at you.” President Trump ignores the facts in front of him and invents new ones.

Trump insists on calling COVID-19 the “China Virus” or “Chinese Virus” even though the World Health Organization advises against naming diseases for a particular location because of the stigma involved. And last week the FBI warned about a wave of hate crimes against Asians and Asian-Americans in this country.

Since the pandemic started my team and I have been studying the best and worst practices in communicating in a COVID-19 world. The best include:

  1. Begin all communication, whether written or verbal, with a statement of values: Don’t dive directly into the facts. Create an emotional connection.
  2. Show you care. Calibrate communication with empathy.
  3. Be direct, no euphemism: It’s confusing and causes unnecessary stress.
  4. Tell the truth, the whole truth: Your stakeholders are in this for the long term.
  5. Address all relevant dimensions of the crisis: A narrow lens is inadequate.
  6. Remember that expectations are dynamic. Calibrate current expectations.
  7. Communicate through multiple levels and channels. Be consistent.
  8. Align on values: Provide detail appropriate to each level and circumstance.
  9. Convey a positive attitude: Convey urgency short of provoking panic.
  10. Express emotion, vulnerability, and humility. Effective leaders do.

Governor Cuomo scores on all elements of this scorecard. The President, sadly, misses the mark. Other leaders can learn from both.

Written by: Maida K. Zheng and Raleigh Mayer

When you have to kill a man, it costs nothing to be polite.

– Winston Churchill

I salute the United States Navy.

The Navy – and the other branches of the U.S. military – serve the nation every day, protecting every American’s right to freedom, a privilege we often take for granted.

But right now, the Navy is undergoing a reputational nightmare, and it’s one that could have been avoided.

Capt. Brett Crozier, the commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, was fired after an email he authored regarding COVID-19 expressing his concerns about the potential – and very likely – harm it posed to his ship and its sailors.

The Acting Secretary of the Navy, Thomas Modly, spoke to reporters about his decision to fire Crozier at the Pentagon in a press conference April 2, 2020. Modly stated the reason Capt. Crozier was fired was the Navy’s loss of confidence in Crozier’s ability to lead as well as the disclosure of an internal memo to the media. Modley suggested that the leak occurred because of Crozier’s carelessness in copying too many people on an email that should have been classified, demonstrating poor risk management and poor judgement.

Navy Brass Felt Blindsided by Fired Carrier Captain's Emailed Appeal

Modly would not tell reporters who was copied on the correspondence, stating “I will not comment on that,” during his Pentagon press conference. That may have been one of his first mistakes. When communicating an issue, a “no comment” response will always be met with suspicion and conveys defensiveness, and the refusal may be interpreted as guilt.

To be clear, the reputational damage to the Navy was not necessarily because of the firing itself, which may or may not have been warranted.  The outrage is due to the manner in which Modly communicated that decision.

Effective communicators know that the framework for guiding the choice, style, and timing of a message should always start with the following question: “What would reasonable people appropriately expect a responsible organization to do in this situation?”

By focusing on damaging hypotheticals such as “[the leak] unnecessarily raised alarms with the families of our Sailors and Marines with no plan to address those concerns” Modly accidentally communicated a lack of empathy toward the seriousness of the situation and what the families were likely already feeling (anxiety).

Modly questioned the professionalism of Crozier, who at that point was literally seen as a hero by service members for risking his career for their safety.  “I could reach no other conclusion than that Captain Crozier had allowed the complexity of his challenge with COVID breakout on the ship to overwhelm his ability to act professionally,” Modly said.

Had Modly employed the best-practiced principle of crisis communication and asked himself “what would reasonable people expect a responsible organization to do in this situation” he likely would have realized how critical (for the sake of the Navy’s reputation) it was for him to publicly state that this was an unprecedented situation, and support Crozier because reasonable people expect the Navy to care. Showing you care does not mean you have to give up on good order and discipline. Reasonable people understand that if a policy or order was broken, there will be consequences.

In every crisis there is opportunity, and when this story broke, the Navy had an opportunity to back Capt. Crozier and explain the actions that had been taken and planned to be taken to ensure the service members would be safe and that the mission would not be abandoned. After all – those plans were already in motion according to Modly. Instead, they punished the person the public had already fallen in love with and thus appeared callous in doing so.

With all that said, below are some tips for success in a situation such as this.

  1. Reasonable people expect an organization to care, first and foremost.  The single biggest predictor of loss of trust in a crisis is the perception that you don’t care.
  2. First mover advantage matters. Whoever is first to define the crisis, motives, and actions is the one who controls the interpretation of the event.
  3. A well-structured stand-by statement, prepared ahead of time for adaptation, is key in ensuring you are communicating effectively during a crisis.

Logos Consulting Group provides the following template for the best possible outcome in tough, touchy, sensitive situations:

  1. Acknowledgement. Open by stating awareness of the event or issue. Do not use euphemisms, which are confusing to audiences, especially those under stress.
  2. Empathy. If there are victims or potential victims, express empathy.
  3. Values. Describe the organization’s values that will give context to the response to the crisis.
  4. Approach. Describe ways the organization is handling the response to the crisis, including what has been done or what is under way.
  5. Commitment. Outline the substantive or procedural commitments you can make now.

On Sunday, April 5, several media outlets confirmed that Capt. Crozier tested positive for COVID-19; the Navy declined to comment.

On Monday, April 6, reports of a leaked speech of Modly speaking to Sailors in Guam was released via several media outlets.

“If he didn’t think, in my opinion, that this information wasn’t going to get out into the public, in this day and information age that we live in, then he was either a) too naive, or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this,” Modly said to the USS Theodore Roosevelt crew.

The speech continues in this manner with Sailors audibly yelling “what the F***” in the background.

Additionally on April 6, Modly wrote a response to a New York Times op-ed where Theodore Roosevelt’s great-grandson (Tweed Roosevelt) called Capt. Crozier a hero. In his response, Modly said he has the utmost respect for the Roosevelt family, but that Tweed is wrong — “he simply doe not have access to the relevant facts that led to the captains dismissal.” The letter was deleted shortly after it went live.

The Golden Hour of Crisis Response for communicators and medical professionals describes the urgency to “stop the bleeding.” Each day the Navy delays in effectively communicating and showing true empathy causes more and more reputational harm…and bleeding.

We truly hope Capt. Crozier and his crew recover. Fair winds and following seas.

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Maida Kalic Zheng is a fellow at the Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership, where she helps corporate leaders maximize their presence, enhance communication, and become more sophisticated at managing their relationships and reputations.

 

Raleigh Mayer, the Gravitas Guru and principal of Raleigh Mayer of Consulting and Senior Fellow at the Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership, helps leaders elevate presence, enhance communication, and become more sophisticated at managing their relationships and reputations. She is an advisor, coach, educator, and speaker, serving large corporations, private firms, and individual executives.

 

Leadership, Communication, and COVID-19

By Helio Fred Garcia

As the COVID-19 Pandemic continues to  grow, Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership has been advising clients and carefully studying communication by leaders across a range of sectors and forms of organization.

We have reviewed thousands of communications by CEOs, university presidents, NGO executive directors and secretaries general, and public officials. And we have identified patterns that help leaders and their organizations make smart choices and avoid inadvertent self-inflicted harm.

Seven Crises in  One

One of the foundational principles of effective crisis management is to name the problem accurately and to understand the true scope and likely risk of the crisis.

I believe that the COVID-19 crisis is actually seven crises in one. Think of these as seven different dimensions of the crisis. There’s a danger that a leader might be so focused on any one of the dimensions that he or she will miss the need to address the others. The seven dimensions of COVID-19 are these:

  1. Public Health Crisis: At its core COVID-19 is a public health crisis. Half a million people worldwide have gotten sick; tens of thousands have died. More will get sick and die before things get better. But  now in the United States the public health crisis includes a healthcare delivery system that is being strained to the breaking point. As hospitals in epicenters begin to fill up, there’s also a shortage of medical equipment and personal protective gear. Health workers are at risk, as are other patients.
  2. Business Crisis: COVID-19 presents a business problem for all forms of organizations. There is a cost impact, for most organizations a negative one. There  is a revenue impact, mostly negative; for some potentially catastrophic. There is disruption of operations. There is an HR impact.
  3. Economic Crisis: At the same time there is a significant economic crisis underway. The risk of falling into a major recession, very low two months ago, now is quite high. The markets have exhibited unprecedented volatility. Economic uncertainty is wearing on people and institutions.
  4. Information Crisis: From the beginning of the pandemic there has been significant incorrect information, incomplete information, and in some cases intentionally misleading information in the information ecosystem. This information crisis leads to significant misunderstanding about who is at risk of contracting the illness, who can transmit it, and what precautions are appropriate.
  5. Competence of Government Crisis: Not just in the U.S., but initially in China, Iran, and other nations the initial responses were bungled and the virus  spread. In the U.S. we have yet to see a whole of government response. Rather, we’ve seen a fragments of government response. Only in the third week of March, and the third month of COVID-19 in the U.S., are there sufficient tests and testing sites. But there is insufficient personal protective equipment for health workers, and a shortage of hand sanitizers, rubber gloves, and masks in retail stores.
  6. Social Crisis: People’s lives have been upended; many people are losing or at risk of losing their jobs. Supermarket shelves are bare. Many companies have ordered employees to work from home; schools are closed or have gone to virtual learning. But there has also been a rise of incivility, insult, and violence against people who have been stigmatized. President Trump’s insistence on calling COVID-19 “China Virus” or “Chinese Virus” has led to a wave of hate crimes against people perceived to be Asian or Asian-American.
  7. Mental Health Crisis: Human beings are social animals, and social distancing is having an effect. Compound this with the fear of the illness, the rising rate of infections and fatalities, and the other dimensions of the crisis, people are fraught. They are fragile. And they need extra care. New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has asked for mental health professionals to volunteer to work with people not presently under their care to begin to meet this mental health need. I expect other governors will do the same.

 

Everything is Different

The unprecedented scope of the crisis makes it difficult to predict what will happen next. This crisis is unlike others. Among the differences:

  • This is unlike prior pandemics. This is the first global pandemic in a social media world. Recent pandemics were geographically contained. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome was mostly confined to the Republic of Korea. Ebola was contained in the United States, and our military and public health experts were able to contain it in West Africa. And this is the first truly global pandemic in the lifetimes of most people in leadership positions.
  • This is unlike natural disasters. Most organizations are ready or can adapt to natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and floods. But those are generally geographically confined and are sudden but short in duration. COVID-19 is widespread and will continue for a very long time.
  • This is not like ordinary corporate crises. Most corporate crises are limited to a particular company, sector, or geography. But this one affects every organization. And unlike most corporate crises, this one has the additional dimensions of public health, economic risk, information challenges, competence of government, and social dislocation.
  • The situation is constantly changing. The scope of contagion, the government and society’s response to it, and our understanding of risk to ourselves are in constant flux. In a matter of days we saw an escalation from no large crowds to no crowds at all to stay-at-home orders to full lock-down orders.
  • This is fundamentally reshaping our understanding of work. As millions of American workers learn how to work from home, and as companies experiment with different modes of delivering products and services, the likelihood of a return to pre-COVID-19 conditions is not clear.

Crisis Response Best Practices

Most ineffective crisis responses begin with leaders asking some version of What should we do? Or What should we say? The challenge with this kind of question is that it focuses on the we – on the entity or leader in crisis. This results in the consideration of options that may make the leader in midst of crisis feel less vulnerable. But it is unlikely to lead to what is necessary to maintain trust, confidence, and support of those people whose trust, confidence, and support are critical to the organization.

What is needed is a different kind of thinking that begins not with the I/me/we/us but rather with the they/them – with the stakeholders who matter to the organization. The leadership discipline of mental readiness – the readiness to shift frames of reference from the first person — I/me/we/us — to the third person — they/them — makes all the difference.

And that’s because of the way trust works.

A common goal for most organizations and leaders in crises is to maintain the trust and confidence of those who matter – shareholders, employees, customers, regulators, residents, citizens, voters, etc. Trust is what makes other elements of competitive advantage possible, from stock price to employee morale and productivity to support of  regulators.

Trust, in turn, is the consequence of three related but slightly different things:

  1. Promises fulfilled. These can be explicit promises, or implicit promises such as in a brand identity. If we are seen to break a promise, trust falls.
  2. Expectations met. These can be expectations we set ourselves, such as by making promises. Or they can be expectations set by law or by government order. Or they can be expectations set by society. If we fail to meet expectations, trust falls.
  3. Values lived.  When those who matter to us experience us as living our stated values, the result is trust. If those who matter to us experience us as not living our stated values, trust falls.

And one of the patterns we notice is that it is much harder to restore trust once it has been lost than to maintain trust before it has been lost.

Asking What should we do? runs the serious risk of failing even to consider stakeholders’ expectations. Worse, it further risks the leader becoming stuck in his or her own perspective, in I/me/we/us. Hence, such crisis whoppers as BP CEO Tony Hayward’s “I’d like my life back,” or even President Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook.”

Most crisis response failures can be traced back to the ultimate decision-makers focusing on their own frame of reference rather than on their stakeholders.

The right question to ask when determining the appropriate course of action in a crisis is not What should we do.

Rather, it is this: What would reasonable people appropriately expect a responsible organization or leader to do when facing this kind of situation?

For any stakeholder group we can answer the question, What would reasonable members of this stakeholder group appropriately expect a responsible organization or leader to do? to a very granular level. To the level of all employees, or only those employees in this one facility, or only those employees who were present when something happened. We can inventory those granular expectations  for each stakeholder group, and we can then work to fulfill those particular expectations.

But regardless the particular expectations of any given stakeholder group, there is a common expectation that applies to all stakeholder groups all the time:  In a crisis, all stakeholders expect a responsible organization or leader to care.  To care that something has happened; to care that people need help; to care that something needs to be done.

What it means to care may be different from crisis to crisis, or from industry to industry. What it means to care in the early phases of the crisis may be different from what it means to care in the later phases of the crisis. But that we need to care doesn’t change.

The single largest predictor that trust will fall is the perception of indifference. And silence, when there is an expectation of caring, is interpreted by stakeholders as indifference. And it gives our adversaries, critics, media and social media, and trolls the ability to define us as uncaring, or incompetent, or as lacking integrity.

Applying Best Practices to COVID-19 Communication

As the Logos Institute team has studied institutional response to COVIID-19, we have derived these  lessons applying the principle of caring to the pandemic.

  1. Begin all communication, whether written or verbal, with a statement of values, or belief, or intent, or motivation. Don’t dive directly into the facts. Audiences are far more likely to read or listen, understand, and remember when the leader creates an emotional connection first, and that begins with the statement of values.
  2. Show you care. Calibrate communication with empathy.
  3. Be direct: No euphemism. Euphemism is confusing to audiences, especially when under stress. If an employee has died because of COVID-19, say so.
  4. Tell the truth: Avoid misleading half-truths. Remember that you’re in this for the long term. And eventually you’ll need employees to continue to want to work for you, and customers to want to do business with you. If you know that layoffs are likely, and you’re asked whether there will be layoffs, it may be tempting to say something literally true — “At this point there is no plan to lay people off.” This may be true, but the question was not about whether there is a plan but rather about whether there would be layoffs. A better response would be “We haven’t made a final decision, and we will do whatever we can to protect employees, but layoffs are a possibility.”
  5. Address all relevant dimensions of the crisis: public health, business crisis, economic crisis, information crisis, competence of government crisis, social crisis, and mental health crisis. It may be tempting to stay in a single frame, say, business crisis. But your stakeholders are experiencing all seven dimensions of the crisis.
  6. Remember that expectations are dynamic. Yesterday’s expectations may not be helpful today. Calibrate against current expectations.
  7. Communicate at multiple levels. Employees and other stakeholders need to hear from more than the CEO. At this point it is better to over-communicate than to under-communicate.
  8. Align on values; allow granular detail appropriate to each level. Whether the CEO or an EVP or VP or department head or project team leader, there should be alignment on the level of values, belief, intent, or motive. But at each level the granularity should be appropriate to the level of the leader doing the communication.
  9. Convey a positive attitude that balances urgency against the provoking of panic. Effective leaders keep the focus on the future even while demonstrating urgency. But emotions themselves are contagious. Leaders need to stop short of provoking panic.
  10. Express emotion, vulnerability, and humility. Arrogance makes empathy impossible, and it is empathy that gets leaders and organizations through a crisis. Leaders are often reluctant to express emotion or vulnerability. But the most effective ones do.
  11. Get good at being on TV. Whether recording a video for public consumption or conducting a meeting via Zoom or Skype  or GoToMeeting, leaders need to get good at communicating through a video camera.
  12. Remember, people are feeling very fragile. People are scared; they’re worried about their jobs and their friends and their families. People’s work lives and personal lives have been upended. And some people are being stigmatized. Now is a time that calls for kindness. Effective leaders care.

 *  *  *

NEW YORK, NY (March 25, 2020) – As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic worsens, the Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership advises clients to be prepared and vigilant in the seven dimensions of COVID-19.

The unprecedented scope of this crisis makes it difficult to predict what will happen next, and is unlike all others: COVID-19 unlike prior pandemics, natural disasters, and corporate implosions, is a situation that is constantly changing, and fundamentally reshaping the management of response.

“We have reviewed thousands of communications by CEOs, university presidents, NGO executive directors, secretaries general, and public officials,” said Helio Fred Garcia, president of Logos Consulting. “We identified patterns that help leaders and their organizations make smart choices and avoid unnecessary reputational damage and inadvertent self-inflicted harm.”

The unique challenge of COVID-19, Garcia explains, is that “It incorporates seven crises in one,” and he advises leaders across all industries to “be aware of every category that they must address”.

“There’s a danger that a leader might be so focused on any one of the dimensions that he or she will miss the need to address the others,” explained Garcia.

 

The Seven Dimensions of the COVID-19 Crisis Are:
  • Public Health
  • Business
  • Economic
  • Information
  • Competence of Government
  • Social
  • Mental Health

Media personnel should contact: Maida K. Zheng, mzheng@logosconsulting.net or 646-338-0422

New York, NY (June 27, 2018) – The Agony of Decision: Mental Readiness and Leadership in a Crisis by Helio Fred Garcia was recognized one of the best crisis management books of all time. Agony of Decision is #2 on the list of the “51 Best Crisis Management Books of All Time” by Book Authority, the leading resource for nonfiction book recommendations.

“I’m honored to find out that the Agony of Decision was given this recognition,” said Garcia, “I hope this book will continue to help leaders think clearly and make smart choices in a crisis.”

Book Authority has been featured on CNN, Forbes, and Inc. and serves millions of book recommendations monthly. Ratings for the best crisis management book of all time are calculated using a sophisticated algorithm, taking into account signals such as:

  • Public mentions of the book
  • Recommendations, ratings and reviews
  • Analysis of user behavior and sentiment
  • Sales history and velocity
  • Book age, information and editions

Book Authority awarded also The Agony of Decision a badge of recognition for being one of the Best New Crisis Management Books of 2018.

The Agony of Decision is available as in both paperback and Kindle e-book editions on Amazon.

New York, NY (Nov. 17, 2017) – On Thursday, November 16, 2017, the Logos Institute for Crisis Management & Executive Leadership honored America’s Crisis Guru ®, James E. Lukaszewski with the inaugural Outstanding Leader Award. That evening, nearly 50 communication industry professionals came together to celebrate Lukaszewski’s storied career and contributions to the field.

The Outstanding Leader Award recognizes established industry professionals for their consequential professional achievements that set the aspirational standard for others, and the recipient’s excellence in the use of strategic communication to achieve professional or business objectives with substantial and positive results. Recipients also possess the impressive ability to inspire and empower others through their status as role models, trusted advisors, and visionaries.

 

“When considering who to honor with our inaugural Outstanding Leader Award, Jim was our immediate first thought,” said Helio Fred Garcia, president of Logos Consulting Group. “Jim has not only set a high standard through his decades of leadership as America’s Crisis Guru, but his scholarship and mentorship of others, including myself, has made a lasting impact on field.”

For more than four decades, Lukaszewski has helped senior leaders facing crisis get through challenges with focus, ethics, and decisive action. President and Chairman of the Board of The Lukaszewski Group Inc., Lukaszewski is a highly regarded leader in crisis management and strategic communication. In addition to advising to those “at the top,” Lukaszewski has also dedicated much of his career to sharing his wisdom and time with students and young professionals only starting their careers. With 13 books and hundreds of articles and monographs authored, his mentorship and leadership influence have easily touched thousands.

“I want to have an important, constructive impact on the lives of people and organizations I help. My ultimate goal in working with other PR professionals or staff members is to help them learn to have happier, successful, and more important and influential lives,” said Lukaszewski. “I’m honored these efforts are recognized by Logos.”