How to lead in a crisis

21st April 2020 |

If your inbox and social media feeds are anything like ours, chances are you have been bombarded with wave after wave of thought leadership articles dishing advice on how to, well, lead during the current crisis. Each piece of content will offer the ‘definitive’ this or the ‘essential’ that, but what is the best way to lead your organisation, department or team through testing times? 

Connectivity 

Writing in MIT Sloan Management Review magazine, Seth Godin, who Business Week described as “the ultimate entrepreneur for the Information Age,” stated that leaders don’t hide behind data. Instead, organisations “need leaders who focus on human connection.” It therefore follows that without this “connection” leaders could very easily find themselves on a lonely journey at a time when they need support from their most trustedcompetent and capable lieutenants 

Visionary and adaptability

Before the crisis enveloped all of us, leaders invariably had a clear line of sight for where their organisations need to be within the next six to 12 months and beyond. That line of sight has since become blurred – clouded by the impact of the coronavirus. Now leaders have to figure out a whole new route forward and inspire their team to not only join them on this journey, but to step up and contribute new ideas to help the business overcome the many obstacles that currently lie in its way. 

Attentiveness to industry ‘stirrings’ 

Leaders are strategists, and the key to surviving a crisis and emerging from it in a position from which it can grow once more is to scope the industry landscape and spot where the ‘signals’ – opportunities – may come from. This often means stepping out of one’s comfort zone, paying attention to the shifting sands, and getting ahead of market transitions. In doing so, leaders can take timely action and gain first-advantage over their competition… the early bird really does capture the worm. 

Marketability

When crisis comes, marketing spend is often one of the first causalities to minimise the impact on the bottom line. However, this can be detrimental over the mid to long-term. During the last recession, we saw a number of competitors batten down the hatches and wait for the storm to pass. Whilst this made sense in terms of keeping costs down, it also created a perception that they were no longer in the market for any new business because they pulled back on keeping their brand present. Savvy leaders recognise the importance of staying front of mind for their audience by ensuring that the content they create is valuable, helpful and provides solutions that can help their customers with their immediate goals. 

Honesty

This is perhaps one of the most over-used word on corporate websites today, but it has never been more important than now. Being a leader is a hard job to do. It involves long hours with little or no thanks in return, the stresses and anxieties felt by the rest of the organisation sit heavy on the leader’s shoulders. When crisis strikes, these pressures are multiplied and employees turn to leaders in a bid to relay their fears, insecurities, frustrations and uncertainties of what is happening both in the here and now and in the coming days and weeks. Offering false promises and hope is the sigh of a weak leader.

Rather, ensure you practice what the Harvard Business Review describes as ‘institutional holding’: “Tell your people what will happen to their salaries, health insurance, and working conditions. What will change about how they do their work? What are the key priorities now? Who needs to do what?” 

Remember, leaders need their people on board with them during this journey, so they need to gain their trust, dispel rumours, answer what they can, stick to the facts and avoid hypothesis, and ultimately adhere to the duty of care their have for their people.  

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