The strongest swimmers are the first to abandon a sinking ship.

As leaders, we are still humans first. Among other things, that means we are prone to the same emotional response as our employees when unexpected change lands squarely upon us. Going into self-preservation mode, it’s very easy to go into ourselves, leaving all those around us in the dark. Instinctively, we worry about #1, first and foremost.

Now consider those people below us in the reporting chain; another degree of separation away from information can make a tough situation even more difficult. In a communication vacuum, you will have resistance, both passive and active, as people begin to assimilate. The “active” resistance is easily seen, easily heard. You can address the concerns and issues when they are being openly presented to you; that’s what leaders do.

The passive resistors are a trickier bunch. Many are coping in their own silent, invisible manner ~ including those who know they have the skill set to quickly and seamlessly find a newer, less volatile workplace. And remember, it’s the strongest swimmers who are looking to jump.

So how do you keep your best hands on deck?

  1. Let Them Know ~ Do your key people know they are key people? Recognition and appreciation are rarely used too much in situations of uncertainty. If I’m someone you truly value, tell me so.
  2. Be Available ~ Closed office doors breed mistrust. Once, during a particularly volatile situation a few of us actually removed our doors from the hinges to make the message visible – “I’m here if you need me.
  3. Seek Resistance ~ When you’re not hearing angst or concern, you need to actively seek it out. Be a walk-around manager, be visible, be communicative, and be a safe harbor for your people when the opportunity to vent presents itself.
  4. Be The Mirror ~ Realize that eyes of your team are upon you; your role changes from barometer to thermostat during times of uncertainty. Your actions and words will set the tone, especially to those who are wavering in their commitment level. The power of “Mirroring” (Pritchett) cannot be underestimated.
  5. Keep Managing ~ Lack of leadership is kryptonite to a high-performing employee. If you relinquish control or relax expectations, you risk the dreaded double-whammy, i.e. you’ll lose the good people, but you’ll keep those who are happy to be disguised with inactivity.

It’s not easy to rise above your own emotional response when faced with significant change. You can’t avoid or ignore your own coping process, but make haste, Captain – lest you hear the distant sound of a splash.