Leadership in Crisis

Key things to consider as a leader in times of crisis.

What makes a strong leader?

Every leader is different. You may not even see yourself as a leader, but in times of crisis every business or team needs one. If it is you, then accept that this is your role and consider carefully what you need to do in order to steer your business, or team and its people through times of trouble.
You don’t need to be Napoleon, Churchill or Gandhi but you do need to give guidance, reassurance and comfort to your business or team when crisis hits.

“Ultimately, leadership is not about glorious crowning acts. It’s about keeping your team focused on a goal and motivated to do their best to achieve it, especially when the stakes are high, and the consequences really matter. It is about laying the groundwork for others’ success, and then standing back and letting them shine.”

Chris Hadfield


You are not alone. If you find yourself in a position of responsibility, then firstly realise you do not have to do this on your own. Find others to support you and include them in your thinking. The final decision may rest with you, but the advice can come from others.

Right or wrong, do something. Making tough decisions in times of crisis can be the hardest aspect of being a leader. However, the business and its people will expect decisions to be made.

Times of crisis will necessitate faster decision making than under normal operating conditions however, this should not come at the expense of consideration; Pause, Think, Act. Take a moment to consider the advice, information and options before deciding on a course of action. The art of decision making under pressure is to make an informed, timely decision and then act on it.

Factors might change and opinions might vary but there must always be an outcome. Accept that the decisions you take may not always be the right ones, (failure is an ever present outcome), but it is better to get it wrong and endeavour to correct it, than to do nothing. Strategy is nothing without action. From this, others will gain strength and guidance and move along that path.

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

John C. Maxwell

Communication is key. It is all well and good making an informed decision but without fast, efficient and accurate communication it will be worth little. Consider what resources you have at hand, how best to use them and who might help you to communicate them. Be clear on your message, think about how it might be received by the audience it is meant for. Then send it.

Be prepared for change. A strong leader must demonstrate flexibility and the ability to react to change. By its very nature a crisis does not stand still, it evolves and so must your strategy. What was right yesterday might not be right today. Remain agile and do not be loathed to change yesterday’s plans.

As in a game of chess do not just play the move in front of you but try to anticipate the next move and the move after that. With the information in front of you, your experience and the advice of others, try to consider what might come next and plan your strategy accordingly.

Inspiration and morale. It is all too easy to consider the business needs and overlook the needs of the people within it. Crisis creates unease and unhappiness. Low morale leads to low motivation and low productivity. Keeping the team’s morale up is a vital part of keeping the business afloat in times of crisis.

The ability to inspire others and build morale is the most critical characteristic of a strong leader. Your attitude and bearing will be noticed and echoed by others. Be realistic and honest in your outlook and demeanour (being over enthusiastic or excessively happy will make you seem out of touch with the reality of the situation) but consider how your mood, language and reactions will affect others. You don’t need to throw a party or send amusing emails and messages every day, but you do need to demonstrate emotional intelligence and empathise with your team’s position. Consider their environment and communicate with them regularly and efficiently (Get Out Clause: If this is not your forte, then find somebody on the senior leadership team who can do it for you). There is an end to every crisis, a good leader will let his team know that and show them the way through it.

“The boss drives people: the leader coaches them. The boss depends on authority, the leader on good will. The boss inspires fear; the leader inspires enthusiasm. The boss says I; the leader says WE. The boss fixes the blame for the breakdown; the leader fixes the breakdown. The boss says GO; the leader says Let’s GO!”

Harry Gordon Selfridge


Ask yourself the questions:

  • Who can help me through this?
  • What will my team need to know?
  • What information do I need to make the critical decisions and where can I get it from?
  • Are my team ok? What do they need to get through this?
  • What has changed since yesterday?

Jon Hazan is the Director of Atlas Events, an ex-Army Officer and a qualified Executive Coach. He has worked in the field of team development and leadership for the past eighteen years.