Skills for crisis leadership

A leader must lead the crisis – or the crisis will lead them

Leading in a crisis is the ultimate test of a leader’s leadership ability. The stresses of the situation will create a series of intense variables that rapidly change and make it difficult to see the immediate priorities. Followers will require extra consideration and guidance, as their emotions can create an unstable environment. You may even find them beginning to polarize. A crisis is when a leader will be tested beyond any other situation that they will typically encounter.

To be successful, you will need to have a series of high calibre skills that can help you navigate through those turbulent times:


Because everything may initially happen at a rapid pace (providing little time for thoughtful consideration or consultation), time becomes a significant variable in decision making. Indecision can lead to a paralysis of action and result in a lack of confidence of the leader.  To be effective as a leader, you will want to make thoughtful decisions quickly and as often as necessary. It is better to make a less than informed decision if you need to, and then correct it later when you have the right information. That is why a best practice is to assemble your leadership team and key people to collect all information and quickly assess options. Those options may include: act, wait (for a very short period), or delay a bit longer while you collect the necessary information.


Businesses and governments are not necessarily organized to handle crisis. In fact, the organizational hierarchy may be a hindrance to response and recovery. Therefore, the ability to be flexible and adapt to the situation is critical for success. The greater the capability to be flexible, the better the organization can adapt without damages or losses. If you cannot have access to your regular leadership team, make a new team and assemble them. Some people really rise to a new level in a crisis. If there is someone who is showing signs of distress and overwhelm, leave them off the team. Otherwise, you will find yourself spending valuable time and effort emotionally managing them, instead of focusing on leading.


Simplicity sounds too simple, but in a crisis situation any action plan that is too complicated will be quickly forgotten or messed up. Simplicity is the key in a crisis; it ultimately wins. The more complicated a leader makes the solution during a crisis, the less likely success will be the end result. Remember: People will be overwhelmed. Followers need to know the next step is simple to attain; something easy that they can accomplish and look at as a success. In order to conquer the challenges that lay ahead, it is necessary to create a series of successes that will build rapport and continue the momentum.


Once you know what the plan looks like, only give the vision for the first part of the plan. Make sure it’s simple and get them to execute it; then reassemble to get the next portion of the plan. If you do not deploy the crisis strategy in small parts, your team can (and most likely will) be overwhelmed and the plan will fail. Remember: Proper pacing of the steps to success will give you fewer extra/additional challenges, and a better chance at achieving success.

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