Amy Scissons of Russell Reynolds Associates: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
The Authority Magazine article, "Amy Scissons of Russell Reynolds Associates: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times," features a Q&A with our Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Amy Scissons on her best tips and lessons learned for leading teams amid uncertainty. The article is excerpted below.
As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need to Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Scissons, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer of Russell Reynolds Associates, a global leadership advisory and search firm. A results-delivery marketing executive with an exceptional record of success in leveraging digital and traditional platforms to support business growth objectives, Amy brings over 20 years of experience leading and developing go-to-market strategies for firms across the globe. Skilled in end-to-end marketing management, her expertise includes integrated marketing strategy, demand generation, customer-centric digital/data-driven marketing and leading high-performance teams.
Prior to her current position, Amy served as Chief Marketing Officer for Mercer’s International Region, where she led marketing operations in more than 100 cities and 41 countries for the global HR consulting firm.
Amy earned a BA in history and an MBA from McGill University. She also holds a Certificate in International Business from HEC Paris, has spoken as a guest lecturer at ESADE Business School and is fluent in English, Spanish and French.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
I think the most critical role of a leader during challenging times is to be continuously purposeful and intentional about what you’re sharing and communicating. Remaining focused on the purpose is key because team members need to have a reason for pressing forward, especially during difficult times. The number one priority should be to drive that purpose, explicitly and implicitly. The purpose also has to be about more than just making money. The second priority is to listen, be empathetic, bring people together and trust that team members will make the right decisions at the right time.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Aside from relentlessly driving purpose and vision, team members have an inherent need to be recognized, valued and appreciated. Recognition during a difficult time cannot be overdone. For example, I was on a call yesterday with a team member in Singapore. Over the last couple of weeks, this person has been giving up their evenings to sync up with those of us in EST. I started out the call by recognizing and appreciating that fact. Now this team member knows that their work is not going unnoticed. When people know that the work they’re doing is valued and appreciated, they remain more engaged and committed.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
My philosophy is always be straight-forward and honest. However, before you deliver difficult news, it is important to take a step back and imagine yourself receiving the same information. Try to empathize with what receiving that news would be like and think through what the best way to message it would be. How would you want to receive it? Because every person is different and so is each situation, you may need to do this on an individual basis so you can personalize the messaging and response to that person. Taking these extra steps goes a long way in earning trust, as I’ve learned firsthand.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
You have to make many plans and remain flexible. There should be a plan A, B, C and so forth. You don’t need to fully flesh out these plans but they should be kept in the back of your mind. As we’ve learned in recent years, the business environment is always in flux and we can be thrown a curveball at any moment. Leaders must also be open to all plausible possibilities, new ideas and multiple perspectives. Planning helps leaders be prepared but malleability helps them stay resilient and adaptable in the face of uncertainty.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
The number one principle is by far communication. I may be biased because I’m a communicator and a marketer by trade, but the importance of communication cannot be overstated across all functions and industries. When a company is going through difficult times, they cannot communicate with stakeholders enough. Overcommunicate, whenever possible. And this should not be done through a single channel. Make the communication multichannel so you can reach different stakeholders, using different sentiments and tones that resonate best across your many audiences.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
A typical mistake made during difficult times is cutting back too fast and making decisions before all the information is available. For example, the March and April time frame of this year was too early to assume that the complete lockdown would be status quo for more than a year. For companies that acted on this assumption, the rebound has been unexpected, and they’ve struggled to stay ahead of it. For companies that brashly cut workforces quickly and radically, it sent a message to team members that they cut fast and swift. Against this backdrop, it’s difficult to build loyalty and commitment in teams.
Another mistake is going quiet or simply not communicating enough. Silence only adds to the uncertainty and anxiety. This can make people feel uncomfortable and insecure about the future. This uncertainty is impacting both mental health and productivity and, in many cases, clear cut communication could help to remedy these pains. Even if the response confirms the uncertainty, team members will appreciate the transparency.
Finally, people are the important asset that a company has. But when the going gets tough, some companies lose sight of this. Like many prized assets, humans are fragile. They need support. It is a mistake to not always invest in people, especially during challenging times.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
Lead with transparency and overcommunicate whenever possible. This means providing clear guidance on all business-critical priorities but also discussing the future outlook, which has the dual purpose of driving productivity in the short-term but also helping ease feelings of uncertainty in the long-term. In the beginning, some companies communicated the pandemic to be “temporary” or maybe even tried to downplay its effects. Still others made brash decisions based on assumptions of there being complete shutdowns for a year or more. Extreme approaches are dangerous. Companies can avoid extreme reactions by maintaining regular, constant communication with team members. People understand that the business environment is currently uncertain, and they can accept that there may not be answers or resolutions at the moment. However, silence is never acceptable if a leader wants to build trust and loyalty with their team.
Because communication is a two-way street, leaders must also provide safe opportunities for their team members to express their own thoughts and offer feedback. Especially during turbulence, leaders should offer avenues for their team members to provide their thoughts, concerns and feedback. I’ve learned that offering multiple channels is particularly important because not all team members will feel comfortable coming directly to their manager. Some will prefer to offer their feedback anonymously. Anonymous surveys have been tremendously helpful in identifying and addressing gaps on teams that I’ve worked with. Also, it’s important to acknowledge any feedback that comes through, even if there’s not a plan to implement it. Often times, feedback cannot be acted on because of budget limitations or operational needs but recognizing the feedback and explaining this is an important part of the communication process.
It’s also critical that business leaders remain focused solely on the situations and variables they can actually control. There’s limited time each day and we can spend it preoccupied with that which is outside of our control or we can instead invest it in the factors that are in our very hands. I often make a two-column list of what’s in and out of my control and after I am finished, I physically cross out the “out of control” list. This helps me accept and move on from the items that appear in that column. It also helps me understand what I can control and sets me on the path of taking action.
The best leaders are those that put their own oxygen mask on first in an emergency. Only if we’re healthy, safe and well can we help others and lead them to safety. Team members take cues from leaders, meaning they’ll pick up on how managers act and respond to situations and this will impact how they act and respond. If we’re anxious and worried about a situation, it will trigger stress among our team. If a leader is not taking care of herself or himself, this will likely rub off on their team as well. Self-care becomes all the more critical during turbulent times. Be sure to take time out of the day to take a few intentional deep breaths. Get sleep and eat well. Catering to personal needs will help leaders achieve better business outcomes in the long term.
When the sea is calm, anyone can easily sail. When a storm comes through, only a strong leader can guide the team to safety. But this means being prepared for different possibilities. The guiding vision for an organization shouldn’t change but the means to realizing that vision inevitably will as market conditions evolve. This is true even during times of stability, but it’s especially true during turbulent times. Sticking to a plan that was made before market conditions changed could be a potential disaster. Keeping a strong pulse on the unfolding situation at all times helps leaders to fully understand the internal and external variables that are affecting business. Team collaboration is perhaps more important than ever, as it can bring fresh perspective and help guide a new approach. When it comes to team collaboration, I also try to make it a point to celebrate all victories — even the small ones. I find that this helps build positive momentum, rolling in a tide that can raise the boat and keep us moving.
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