A Lesson in Communications

Many lessons will undoubtedly be learned from Australia’s recent natural disasters. Incredible flooding, followed by one of the largest cyclones in recent memory have caused havoc across Australia, particularly in Queensland. The chaos of natural disasters places a premium on good communication. In this situation, many leaders defer to the “experts” to communicate to the public at large. In the case of Queensland, Premier Anna Bligh has taught us all a lesson in how to communicate effectively in difficult times. We aren’t making a political endorsement here, just pointing out that in this instance, the Premier has taught us all some valuable communication lessons. Here is a summary of our observations:

  • She has demonstrated her leadership by taking on the communications herself
  • Via thorough briefings and by having experts at her side during press conferences, she demonstrated she was directing the effort to address the chaos and start the cleanup process
  • Her communications were frequent – coming multiple times a day. (How often have you been at an airport, experienced a flight delay, and just wanted to know the status?)
  • She has demonstrated compassion, however expressing emotion was not the highlight of her press conferences. She remained focused on facts, conveying status and what the population should be doing.
  • She has been motivational to a battered public, saying things such as “(the floods) may have broken our hearts, but they won’t break our spirit.”
  • When she didn’t know something, she directly said so, and followed up with subsequent press conferences.

So, where is the intelligent disobedience here? There are times NOT to defer to the experts. The Premier is not an expert in disaster management, yet, it is the visible leadership that is needed and wanted by the public. She is filling that leadership and communication role, and is not delegating it. In addition, this type of communication behaviour is something we often don’t see from leaders. Direct communication, handling and accepting accountability, and expressing both fact and compassion in a difficult situation is critical for leaders. How do you perform when you have to communicate to a team while under pressure? Could you take a lesson from the points above? If so, what will be your first step to improve your communications?