How to lead through a crisis

crisis 2

The thing we need most in a crisis is leadership…strong, decisive and compassionate leadership.

Note that I said compassionate leadership and not passionate leadership. There is a difference, and the best leaders know this and use it to good effect.

To help you lead your team or organization through a crisis, here are a few characteristics of great leadership in a crisis.

Information is key – seek credible information and disseminate it in the trustworthiest way possible. This may be face to face or as regular, timely updates. If you don’t tell people the whole story they will most likely make up their own. And very rarely do people make up positive stories so communicate effectively and avoid having to put out all the unnecessary fires.

Explain what you are your company are doing – staff want to know exactly what you are doing to assist or prevent further issues. Especially if personal safety is a concern.  At the moment it may be putting in tight hand sanitiser rules, entry/visitor rules, working from home protocols. Don’t underestimate the comfort staff receive from knowing you are acting swiftly and decisively.

Make connections – draw on people’s sense of loyalty, morality or other principles and bring them together. They say a problem shared is a problem halved. Getting through this as a united bunch will make it far easier.

Plan for the new normal – rarely after a crisis do things immediately return to normal straight away. Plan for what the new normal looks like and share this widely. This informs people as to what a successful outcome will look like. It will give people something to work towards and allow them to lead.

On a personal level, leaders must look after themselves and ensure they have the energy to lead.

Some personal tips to help you thrive in a crisis include:

Face your emotions – these include yours and others emotions. An imbalanced emotional state prevents you from processing information or making good decisions. Try mindfulness or simply talking things out with trusted colleagues as a way of understanding your emotions and how they effect your abilities.

Prioritise and focus – you will have to manage priorities and your time. You may have to say no more often than usual. Start by offloading the ‘dumb stuff’ you do but aren’t sure why.

Get grounded – take time out for yourself. This may be a small 5 minute break to catch your breath, seek counsel of others or to just sit and be mindful. Getting you out of fight or flight mode for even a short period will make a huge difference to you, your work and those in your life.

Most importantly, make sure you have a plan.

Having a plan, no matter how changeable the situation gives your staff confidence. It gives your leaders something to work towards and it gives you something to be accountable to. When things are so uncertain as they are right now, you can’t underestimate how valuable a plan can be.

A word of warning though. Knowing what success looks like is not a full plan. The key to any plan is knowing the ‘performance’ required to achieve the success.

This is what people are after.

How do I need to perform when I come to work each day. What do I do each day?

Make that clear, and you would be a leader I would follow in a crisis.



If you and your colleagues would like a video conference detailing the concepts of high performance and resilience applicable to working from home, please let us know. We have presentations ranging from 30 minutes to half a day which can be delivered in a variety of formats. Do you need help to devise your plan?

About the author

Nathan  Burke started his career as a school teacher before the demands of elite level football took over. After a 20 year career as player and coach with the St Kilda F.C Nathan moved into the world of consultancy where his talents in the field of leadership, culture and high performance have served him and his clients well.

Nathan is currently the Head Coach of Western Bulldogs AFLW team.