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Leadership in a global crisis – the Path to Recovery

by Robert Masters, Chairman, The Centre for Optimism

It takes incredible discipline for leadership to get beyond the damage and create the solution to add trust, confidence and optimism in the community.

Transparency, Truth and Timelessness are the keys to the solution. They are the head, heart and guts (the navigators) of what you should be communicating based on your core principles and values.

Leaders must be inclusive and solutions-oriented in a way that says, ‘we are here for you, we are part of this community and we will get through this by working together to restore our positive way of life’.


The culture of fear that we are now living in has two aspects to it which require leadership that delivers trusted, transparent, authoritative messages and comfort.

Fear limits our performance and our approach to issues. From a psychological point of view, we know media fuels fear.

In the current environment, this fear is a virus in itself and it can affect our health and safety and our financial position as well.

Leaders, especially politicians, can quickly foment this culture of fear through too-frequent press-conferences, interviews and in social media. This is not to say they should not be communicating frequently, but that they must understand that the media’s principle role is to help people make informed decisions. Therefore, feeding the media’s ‘fear cycle’ must be understood in how to couch the message to ensure the media help people make informed decisions.

With all of us having up to 60,000 thoughts a day and around 80% of them negative, our leaders have to recreate a culture based on optimism.

Statements such as ‘we shall all get through this’ do not deliver this new culture. They should not dictate, but provide solutions, such as ‘our health system, our doctors, nurses, assistance and our scientists are the best anyone could have, and they are working on protecting you day in and day out’; ‘we have the best minds working on plans for regrowth, for jobs, for a better Australia’; and ‘I shall be telling you about them over the days ahead.’

‘Story telling’ is a very important aspect of getting people to understand Leaders’ messages. It should be used to address the ‘why’ factor in a pathway to what is planned to be done and what role is expected of stakeholders.

It also needs to be used to get stakeholders ‘emotionally engaged’ so they understand what they are facing, what opportunities are at hand and how they can act to address them or take advantage of them.

People don’t want this virus, but they do want leadership to deal with it in a positive way. Most people are doing the right thing, but they don’t want to be constantly castigated because this will lead to disillusionment; nor do they want a dictatorial style, or an authoritarian one; and they definitely don’t want a culture of fear.

Robert Masters is the Chairman of The Centre for Optimism.  He is one of Australia's wisest, most experienced and optimistic crisis communications adviser.  Contact Robert for sound advice.

Rob Masters on Optimism and Strategy

"I’m not being Pollyanna or popping on my rose-coloured glasses. This storytelling tip in this time of COVID-19 is informed by well-worn psychological research. It turns out when things are unclear and uncertain humans look to see what others are doing to guide their own actions. It’s called social proof (apologies for adding another ‘social’ to your week). So my tip is simple: share, extol, celebrate and praise stories of people doing the right thing. It’s the optimistic (and an effective) way to encourage change." 
Shawn Callahan

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