What we need – now would be good – is leadership.
Truly inspirational, unfaltering Winston Churchill-type unifying crisis leadership.
It’s only through visionary crisis leadership that Americans will confidently roll up their sleeves, despite our society’s increasingly pernicious amalgamation of:
It’s going to take a lot more than a McGruff the Crime Dog campaign.
CLOSE THE TRUST GAP
The single most important factor for any leader to worry about when managing crisis is trust.
Whoever wins the election will have a significant deficit in this regard, and it must be eliminated to reach critical mass of vaccinations – as well as continued compliance with social distancing and other responses to the pandemic.
The most immediate way to do this is by dropping the political bombast and allegations, the intentionally creating distrust against the “other side.”
As previous presidents have responded to crisis, we should establish a national war-like footing to beat COVID-19.
The president will send a clear message to all Americans by forming strong bipartisan leadership group and put opposite party members on the cabinet. Leaders must be ruthless in marginalizing partisan blowhards from both sides who obstruct the work at hand.
The president must make clear that he or she is committed to putting the best people and resources, regardless of party, toward a single, understandable objective that is easily repeated by every American:
Win the COVID war.
Get 90% of Americans vaccinated so we eradicate this threat to our way of life.
COMPASSION & EMPATHY
You might remember when the president fluffed-off the pandemic’s rising death toll with this little bit of national disunity: “If you take the blue states out, we’re at a level that I don’t think anybody in the world would be at.”
Whatever self-serving claptrap this was, it dangerously expanded the already enormous trust deficit between the government and Americans. The public inherently has little trust in a leader who so far has exhibited little feeling for dead and dying victims of COVID-19, while playing down its mortal risks from the very beginning.
To close the trust gap and get people to accept the vaccine, our crisis leader needs significant emotional intelligence, or EQ. Research shows that leaders with high EQ are effective at creating confidence and reducing anxiety. They’re socially aware and intuitive about what’s going on with other people, which they use to solve complex organizational and social problems.
No matter how caught up in the faceless data that define crisis at the highest level, whoever is trying to convince Americans to take the shot must show that they legitimately feel the suffering caused by this pandemic.
CLARITY & CONTIUITY
“Crisis communication best practice is remarkably simple and consistent,” wrote two governance experts recently in Government Technology. “It emphasizes the need for clear, timely, consistent and repeated messaging and actionable advice, delivered by credible sources. Yet it remains surprising how often crisis communication turns out to be an Achilles heel of crisis response.”
Government, like corporate America, is often its own worst enemy: Its number one reputation and operational risk is that an otherwise manageable public-facing issue will become a raging PR crisis because of it mishandles the initial response -- if it responds at all.
More than anything, communications in a crisis has to be instantaneous to fill the inevitable information vacuum that is quickly filled with speculation and misinformation.
Crisis communications must stay connected and responsive to the obvious but difficult questions, with each being answered in one of the three “straight up” ways:
Unfortunately, it’s the important obvious-but-difficult questions that government people are too often loath to answer straight up because they are terribly unprepared, politically afraid or too arrogantly dismissive of the Americans they work for.
But they shouldn’t be. As those professors correctly noted, “Fifty years of crisis research has shown this almost never happens as most citizens can handle ominous information when given clear guidance on how to act.”
NOT MANDATORY, YET.
As the vaccine becomes available, our crisis leader will be under considerable pressure to make it mandatory, right away.
We agree with experts who say this is the wrong move, strategically and logistically – especially if we actually have the strength of true unified leadership running the show.
Making the vaccine mandatory too quickly will exacerbate the anti-whatevers and conspiracy cases, mitigating potential for buy-in to develop organically as families and communities get their shots in the midst of a huge national information campaign.
Once we’re left with the remaining percentage of people who should get the shot but refuse to, then the nation’s leaders and vaccinated major-majority will be more appropriately single-minded about how to deal with them.
And even there, we will act with resolve.
InfoAndInfluence.com is written by Steven Silvers and Paul Jacobson, founding partners of SilversJacobson Crisis Management & PR Strategies.
InfoAndInfluence.Com is written by Steven Silvers and Paul Jacobson of SilversJacobson. Please attribute.