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When a Leader Falls Ill: How to Communicate

From Nicole Shuman, writing for PRNews:

A leader of a company or organization can serve as the quarterback when it comes to delivering a positive reputation to the public. While a leader does not always handle the nuts and bolts and day-to-day details of running a brand, he/she serves as a face for employees, customers, shareholders and more.

We live in a time where coronavirus does not discriminate. No matter where you are on the corporate ladder or systemic food chain, it can find you. We saw this last week, when President Donald Trump tested positive and fell ill from COVID-19. Since then, the virus has spread through the White House and top offices in the nation’s capital, leaving the public with a great sense of concern and some confusion about what is happening.

The same thing can occur on a corporate level or with celebrities. We have seen highly-regarded names and public figures like actor Tom Hanks, New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton and Harvard University president Larry Bacow test positive for the virus. How an organization decides to communicate this information, and who will serve as a temporary spokesperson or leader is of utmost importance. We talked to communication professionals on how to proceed when leadership falls ill.

Transparency, Transparency, Transparency

Almost every practitioner we talked to first mentioned the utmost importance of transparency. Dan Levitan, EVP of the of the tech and innovation practice at BerlinRosen, said transparency goes hand-in-hand with earning the public’s trust.

“There is a balance between privacy of individuals and transparency…so the communications challenge is talking about what is [really] happening with the CEO,” Levitan said. “A general rule for engagement here is to be transparent and forthcoming. Not doing so will really damage your reputation and brand, internally and externally. Focus on the health and safety of the leader and the rest of the staff.”

Flame Schoeder, an International Coaching Federation-credentialed life coach, agreed about providing certainty through information.

“In this current environment of uncertainty, the human brain needs information it can rely on in order to feel safe,” Schoeder said. “The more certainty you can put into your communication, the more comforted and reassured people will be.”

For the rest, click here.

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What would happen if your organization’s leader said the wrong thing, fell ill or was otherwise unavailable?  If that’s a concern of yours, let’s talk.  Give us a call at 216-321-7774 or reach us at [email protected]


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