Whenever there is a gap between the occurrence of a problem or incident in your organization and when the facts are verified and disclosed publicly, along with information about what is being done about it, bad things can happen. This truth is especially important to keep in mind as we bring students back to in-person classrooms. In today’s environment, social media makes the situation even more challenging. Rumors spread with lightning speed, especially when people are working remotely and may be feeling isolated.
There is a leadership law that speaks specifically to this issue. It’s called The Law of Real Truth and Time and it states: In problem situations, during the process of discovering and sorting out the real truth regarding attitudes, opinions, and beliefs of those being led, the passage of time can magnify the problem.
Every leader must be cognizant of the fact that people form opinions during a time lag. Worse, people get personally committed by word and deed to courses of belief, worry, and action during these delays. Because there is often no leadership communication or action until all the facts are known, this reality is intensified. Unfortunately, once an individual or even an entire group gets committed to certain beliefs about a situation, changing their attitude may be difficult. In truth, student, staff, parent, and community attitudes formed during the time lag are often arrived at without all the information and may be formed about situations not fully understood. Often, people can’t find a way out of the attitudes, beliefs, and opinions they expressed to others during this time. They then hold to their opinions later, even if they no longer feel that way. In addition, many varied individual commitments about an issue can develop during the time lag, and a leader may be forced to deal with several problems rather than just one.
That’s why to build trust and transparency, leaders must have a communication plan that encompass the following four concepts: timelines, frequency, facts delivered by credible sources, and priming about what to expect next.
Timing: In order to avoid negative attitudes and beliefs from forming, we must keep the time between problem identification and our first communication to those we lead as short as possible. Rumors and misinformation spread quickly, especially through social media platforms. Therefore, even if we are not yet in command of all the facts, it’s essential that we communicate what we do know as quickly as possible.
Frequency: During an ongoing problem it’s equally vital that we communicate to those we lead frequently. One and done communication during a problem simply won’t cut it for many reasons. First, not everyone we need to influence will receive our communication initially. Second, not everyone who receives it will be in a position to fully listen and understand it. Third, problems are usually dynamic and those we lead will need continuous updates about our progress as well as additional facts as we receive them. Fourth, without a continuous flow of information, negative attitudes and beliefs always emerge.
This is also why we must be prepared with an email and social media plan to counter rumors that spread when problems occur. And we must update our websites with the most current information.
Facts delivered by credible sources: We must supply those we lead with all the facts that are known about a problem situation. And these facts are best delivered and best received when they come from those who are knowledgeable and have credibility in the area in which the problem resides.
Priming: The best leaders prime those they lead by telling them what the next steps will be and when they can expect their next update. This relieves fear and anxiety on the part of those being led. And it creates trust that the leader has a plan and is on top of the situation.
Problems do not go away—even if they are unmentioned or people seem to have forgotten them—unless they are resolved. Rather, problems have a way of intensifying. Also, the cumulative effect of such situations, even if the problems are small, can result in a complete breakdown in the acceptance of leadership. That’s why a leader can never delay gathering and sharing truth about a problem. When we delay, omit frequent communications, fail to deliver the facts, and forget to let people know what to expect next, we are likely to end up dealing with several problems rather than one.