4 Leadership Strategies for Navigating a Crisis

Crises can come in many forms, from natural disasters and terrorist attacks to financial failures and personal scandals.

For companies, navigating a crisis can be perilous, and any missteps can have grave consequences. For leaders, a crisis can be equally challenging: the stakes are high as the cost of failure can be enormous, and the pressure mounts as others look to you to guide the way forward.

Whether you lead a small team or a major organisation, the following four leadership strategies can help you maintain sure footing amid difficult conditions and minimize any harm resulting from the crisis.

1. Make a dynamic plan

In an ideal world, you would have a comprehensive crisis plan ready to activate as soon as the first signs of trouble emerge. Indeed, thoughtful planning, scenario modelling and response testing are key components of proactively building resilience and preparing for a future crisis.

Yet no matter how good your planning, chances are you will face at least some unexpected hurdles when a real disaster strikes. So what then? Rather than pushing ahead blindly without a strategy, it remains critical in these circumstances to make a plan (or update your existing one) and adjust it dynamically as the crisis unfolds.

During non-crisis times, you lead your team with a plan featuring clear goals, actions and responsibilities. These are just as important during a crisis – if not more so – to ensure that everyone has clarity on what needs to be done, why and by whom. Adopting a systematic approach will reduce the likelihood of unintentionally duplicating efforts or overlooking something important while keeping your entire team laser focused on reaching the end of the crisis with the best outcomes possible.

2. Communicate early and honestly

The best plan will come to nothing if you fail to communicate it clearly to your team and other relevant stakeholders. You don’t have to look far to find examples from the corporate world or elsewhere in which poor communication made a bad situation worse.

Transparency and timeliness are both essential facets of good communication during a crisis. Transparency means being honest with your team (and other stakeholders like clients, suppliers, etc., if applicable) about the situation you’re facing. Sugar-coating things or withholding key details can do more harm than good if it means your team fails to appreciate the seriousness of the situation or makes ill-informed decisions.

Timeliness is also important. The longer you take to inform you team about an unfolding crisis, the more time there is for rumours and problems to grow. As crises can evolve rapidly, it’s also better to share incomplete information early rather than waiting until you have the full story, as by this time the situation may be much worse.

3. Lean on your network

Being a leader doesn’t mean you’re on your own. Successful leaders typically have a support network that has helped them reach their current position. This network can be invaluable during times of crisis, but only if you make the effort to reach out to them.

Looking to others during difficult times doesn’t mean handing your problems off to someone else. Instead, it means reaching out to trusted mentors, peers and family members to discuss the challenges you’re facing and bounce around ideas for how to tackle them. (Of course, this must be done within the
privacy and confidentiality constraints of your situation.)

The best strategies in non-crisis times come from synthesising diverse views and ideas, and the same is true during a crisis. While a crisis may call for rapid decision-making and decisive action, there is still potential to benefit from the wisdom and external perspectives of those around you – especially if you know other leaders who have faced crises of their own.

4. Take care of your well-being

Crises can be a good test of leadership abilities, revealing who has the skills and emotional intelligence to guide others through adversity. Yet a crisis can also place immense physical, mental and emotional strains on leaders – especially if it extends over a long period.

To maintain the sharp thinking and stamina needed to successfully navigate a crisis, it’s important to take care of your own well-being in addition to that of your team. Here are a few ways to do this:

  • Delegate tasks – not all the weight should rest on your shoulders, so make it a team effort
  • Make time for rest and recovery – you won’t solve anything if you pass out or burn out before the finish line
  • Practice self-compassion – excessively blaming yourself for mistakes won’t change the past, but it can cloud your thinking

As a leader, you are bound to face a crisis sooner or later. While you may not be able to sail through it entirely stress-free and unscathed, you can minimize the negative impact by using these strategies to lead your team with greater confidence.

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