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Leadership in Times of Crisis

Updated: Nov 1, 2023

Certainly 2020 has presented its fair share of opportunities for us all. Whether we are actively feeling it or not, crisis has been circling us for quite some time. Crisis for some of us has been significant downsizing of our business or teams. Crisis for others has been watching a loved one deal with death or illness. While crisis for others is navigating home schooling or isolation while working full-time in a virtual world. Whether our crisis is global or local, whether our crisis impacts others or just or own personal abilities, dealing with crisis is challenging and can cause a setback for the very best leaders.

We are all leaders, regardless of title or tenure, age or gender. Leading – in its simplest terms – is the act of moving something forward. We all lead – all day, every day. When crisis hits, our stress increases and we can easily lose sight of the kind of leader that we want to be.

Thanks to Harvard Business Review and a few other amazing resources (see references below), we have some powerful points to consider when addressing how we lead through crisis. At the end of the day, we are always at choice and the one thing we have the most control over is ourselves. When facing a crisis, it’s your choice and your opportunity to step up as the powerhouse leader that you are.

Rules to Leading through Crisis

  1. To thy own self be true: meaning, know who you really are as a leader and own that. In moments of crisis, it’s important to make sure that you’re in check with that first and foremost. (If you’ve never established your leadership vision, consider doing that ASAP – more here). Find a way to get in alignment with who you want to be as a leader, keep close tabs on how you’re feeling/what you need, and proceed with navigating the crisis as the leader that you want to be.

  2. Be decisive – quickly: as a leader, we are taught to analyze the situation, pro’s and con’s, consider the short- and long-term impact, etc. to be effective in our decision making. However, in times of crisis we don’t have the gift of time so it’s important to quickly get the lay of the land and make fast and effective decisions. Be cautious, be flexible, and know that navigating with incomplete information is OK. As you are making these decisions, communicate, communicate, communicate to ensure that your team can move, and that you can adapt as needed as you learn more. Focus on your top 3-5 priorities (no more) and take action to overcome the crisis in front of you.

  3. Be bold and courageous: a crisis is not something that happens every day. To effectively lead in these challenging times, it’s important to get ahead of the situation at hand and see input from diverse sources and supporters. Know that (as stated in #2) you need to move quickly, but you also need to do things differently than how you done them before (because you’ve not been in crisis before). Continue your communication to those around you and create a feedback loop with your team and partners to ensure that you can all stay ahead of the situation to be as successful as possible.

  4. Define success and deliver: as we navigate crisis, our priorities and focus needs to shift. As you’re able to get ahead of the situation and make quick decisions to prioritize the needs of the organization, your team, etc. you must be able to define what success really means. That clarity and focus will allow for optimized performance and opportunities to control the chaos around you. It also allows for the ability to celebrate the wins as you can achieve them to keep you and your team motivated and moving forward in a positive direction.

  5. Don’t forget the people in the midst of it all: maybe this should be the very first takeaway, but making sure that your team (and you) are OK is a top priority in leading through crisis. No job is more important than this. Be understanding of the fact that some of your team will be energized and ready to take on the challenge, and others will be emotionally and energetically impacted by it. Give each team member the space and ability to navigate it with your support. Refocus team members accordingly and continually check in to make sure that they are OK and able to continue – shift where and as often as needed. Create a community of support, celebrate the wins and encourage vulnerability to allow team members to grow through the difficult times.

  6. Plan for the (non-crisis) future: things happen. Crisis will come and you will get on the other side. As you are navigating it, remember that the “new normal” also needs to be planned for too. The likelihood of things going back to “how they were” is slim to none. Consider how your team has been impacted and what may need to shift for the future. Consider how you’ve adapted your business to analyze what new shifts need to be made, what can go back to “normal” and what needs to be adjusted for the future too. Conduct a post-mortem with your team to learn what worked, what didn’t and what needs to be address for a brighter, better future.

Throughout the crisis – and if there is any core thing you can take away from this collection of tips – remember this:

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate – it can’t happen often enough in times of crisis

  • Focus on the humanity in it all - it’s OK to not be OK, being vulnerable and seeking support can only make you (and your team) stronger

  • Move quick, be flexible, and be focused on what you can impact

  • Don’t forget to take care of yourself too – stress management, choosing joy and focusing on the positive, surrounding yourself with things that give you energy, and paying close attention to your body and your needs are a few ways to ensure the best possible outcomes for you too

For more tips on establishing your leadership presence – and navigating leadership during difficult times – contact us today. You don’t have to go it alone. WeInspireWe is committed to inspiring leaders and amplifying impact – especially in times of crisis.



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