Styles of leadership in crisis

Because crisis puts normal business operations upside down, leaders will initially find a benefit to using an authoritarian style of leadership. Once some sense of order has been established, switching to a more delegative leadership style will be possible (but only once all the main foundations are in place). Using both of these leadership styles together will give the organization the feeling of security and the ability to move forward.

  • Take time to assess everything (What do I know for sure?)
  • Collect information and data from all sources (but don’t overspend time on this)
  • Access your resources (How are your finances? How are your people? How are your emotional supports? What does my leadership look like?)  Have your mind set for success moving forward, because otherwise it will never lead you to where you what to go.
  • Keep an open mind to brainstorm simple solutions (this is harder than it sounds).  An open mind allows you to see things for what they truly are (Great questions to ask yourself: What if? What if it was different? What if it was the same? What kind of opportunities are going to be there? What if my major competition didn’t make it through?  How will I turn around and grab this opportunity?).  There will be a lot of unsung champions that will come out of this because they will be ready and they got their head in the game faster than the competition.  That is the thing that will make it or break it for you as a small business owner.  How do you get your head open to the opportunities?  

Tension & stress:

Let them see you sweat, but don’t let them see you tremble.

In any crisis, leaders are thrust into a stressful and tense environment that puts them under enormous psychological, mental, and physical strain. Even a small (but poor) decision made under these circumstances can result in catastrophic results. It’s important to the organization that a leader is authentic with their actions, that they remain calm, that they show stability & maintain focus. Leading by example and showing your followers that you are effectively self-managing will help others on the team to make the same effort with their own self-management.

Acknowledging the crisis

When a crisis strikes, it is common for an organization and its leaders to be in disbelief or denial. Before any leader can take their organization through a crisis, they will need to acknowledge that there is indeed a crisis. Why is this so difficult? Leaders are often in denial about the urgency and severity of the challenges they are facing. They tend to blame external events, people, or other departments within the organization for their problems. By not accepting and acknowledging that the problem is theirs to fix, they cannot fully understand what they are dealing with. Once it has been acknowledged that there is a crisis, then the leader must show that they are in charge and dealing with the problem.

The leadership team

It’s important to have a plan of action that will help you manage people when you need to. Depending on the situation, the right people may not be available to respond to the crisis, resulting in un-trained and inexperienced people being called upon to step into the situation. Without the right people, the organization may stumble in normal times, but during a crisis the problems are accentuated exponentially. That means the leader(s) will need to delegate authority, limits, and expectations quickly & effectively to those who respond well under extreme pressure. It’s important to remember that the only thing that counts at this time is performance. You may have to give new authority and responsibility roles to some; while taking away responsibilities from others. Feelings may get hurt – and you may annoy others, but these are decisions that must be made during a time of crisis.

Understanding this will allow a leader to make difficult decisions such as changing roles when someone shows stronger leadership qualities during a crisis.

Every team member will respond differently in a crisis, so it’s important to re-evaluate all potential leaders to see how they handle the new operating environment and all the chaos. By re-evaluating on a continuous basis, a leader can make sure to avoid the problems that occur when someone has reached their maximum capacity for the stresses that occur in a chaotic environment.


Once you have your leadership team in place, the next important thing to look at is securing communication channels in any way possible. Effective communication needs to be solid, rapid, and include a backup contingency plan that everyone is aware of.

Remember to stay accessible and visible to your team & organization and allow information to flow through you. Sometimes leaders may feel overwhelmed in a crisis and want to go into isolation thinking they can solve the problems all by themselves. In reality, leaders must have the help of their team so everyone can work together to devise and implement solutions. To them, this means bringing people into their confidence; asking them for help & ideas; and gaining their commitment to possible painful but corrective actions.


Knowing what resources you have to work with will make decision making in a crisis easier & effective. Resources can be physical things such as equipment, vehicles, physical space, or even inventory. They can also be relationships, connections, or affiliations that could possibly give you favour in a situation. Any resource will serve as leverage to help you move forward with crisis recovery. In good times, it’s important to build up cash resources for any potential crisis that may show up. With cash available, you can create options that may not be possible otherwise.

Don’t say what you hope; say what you know.

Be aggressive in the marketplace. This may sound counter-intuitive, but a crisis offers the best opportunity to change the game in your favour, with new products or services to gain market share. Many people look at a crisis as something to get through, until they can go back to business as usual. But, “business as usual” never returns because markets are irrevocably changed. Why not create the changes that moves the market in your favour instead of waiting and reacting to the changes as they take place?

Talk about possibilities.  What business models can you purchase coming out of this?  Keep your mind open to this. If you are stuck in the day to day, you can’t take time to think.  Schedule it in your calendar and take the time to dream about the future.  It will make a big difference. 

We’ve never been here before and keep in mind that there is huge opportunity for people to rise to the challenge.  So, watch for the champions in your environment, because there will be some that will definitely rise.  They may not be necessarily who you think that they are, but there will be people who are going to take this on – they won’t miss a beat and they will do exceptionally well.  Those are the kind of people who are going to lead our next generation of leaders and you want to be one of those yourself. 

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