Why a leader’s character matters- now, more than ever!

Have you ever wondered what your boss was thinking when he or she made a tough decision? All of us long to work for someone who has our best interest in mind. Sometimes, when we hear bad news, it’s hard to determine if the boss is looking out for themselves or if they’re looking out for all of us!

There are a number of things that help us identify the real motives behind our boss’s decisions. Our brains take in signals like body language, tone of voice, and mood to help us assess how serious or sincere a person is.  These simple clues help us to understand the whole picture when we hear from our leaders. Without these physical clues, it can be very hard to believe the best in leaders when they pass bad news.  If you are a leader, go to extraordinary efforts to communicate well to those who follow your leadership. You can’t do too much right now to build and maintain trust with those whom you lead.

What we need right now

Right now, business leaders all over the world are being asked to make some really difficult decisions. Many of those business decisions are gut-wrenching! No one wants to be in the circumstance where they have to decide between paying workers or losing the company. However, that’s where a lot of leaders are today as a result of the economic effects of COVID-19. Due to social distancing, many business leaders are now forced to communicate bad news with people using highly impersonal methods.  Social-distancing and shelter-in-place orders have cost the personal touch that is vital to communicating well.

Let’s suppose for just a moment that you’re a business leader. Let’s say that you have been forced to make a really tough decision. Now, let’s assume that you need to communicate the results of that tough decision to those whom you lead. How do you communicate bad news in these very unusual circumstances brought on by COVID-19? What happens when the physical cues are removed? How does someone trust a leader’s sincerity when he or she can’t see the face, hear the voice or watch the posture that accompanies bad news?  This is when a leader’s character and integrity take the forefront.

Leading in public

For a leader struggling with hard decisions, the next challenge is communicating bad news in the most humane way possible.  Bad news is never easy to communicate. It’s even harder to communicate when a leader is forced to do it over an impersonal medium like email. Inevitably, some people are going to read the wrong tone in an email.  Even over the phone, it can be hard to help someone sense the pain on your face or the hurt in your eyes when letting them know that they’re being laid off or their pay is being cut to save jobs.

Maybe you’ve heard some bad news from your boss lately. Maybe you’re the mid-level manager who has had to make one of the most difficult decisions of your career in the past few weeks.  The latest reports say that 80% of all businesses in America have been negatively affected by the economic impact of COVID-19.  If the statistics are accurate, then almost everyone in America has heard some bad news or had to convey some bad news in the past few weeks.  Communicating this bad news in the most gracious and human way possible is the task of leadership… and it’s hard work.

Building or destroying your integrity

If you’re a leader and wondering what you can do to communicate well in these unprecedented times, I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you. Your message will be heard through the filter of your integrity.  No matter what the message says, people will hear it through the record of your reputation and how you acted in the past.  Don’t look for a short-cut.  There’s no way around this communication filter.  It’s what people see and hear from you in your private life that influences how they receive what you say in your professional life.  The way you have conducted yourself in the past will influence what people assume about you in the present!

Here is the good news… Integrity takes a long time to build, but it pays huge dividends. When people believe that you have their best interests in mind, they will use that as a starting point for what they hear and see from you in the future.  Your integrity will be on the forefront of people’s mind when you communicate bad news.  If you have worked to build your integrity before this hard decision, the dividends will pay off when the time comes to communicate your heart.

Here’s the bad news…The opposite side of integrity is also true for leaders. When you have demonstrated that you’re not trustworthy with easy decisions, people will automatically assume the worst about you when you have to make hard decisions! There’s no shortcut. There’s no easy way around it. People will hear what you say as a leader through the filter of your integrity.  Integrity takes a long time to build, but once established, it pays huge dividends. However, integrity can be destroyed overnight. It only takes one personal mistake to lose the trust of the people you lead.  I hope you’ve made the investment in your character, so that others can trust you when you have to make a hard decision in the future.

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