Leading Through Crisis

Every leader will face a crisis during their tenure. The gravity of that crisis differs, with most leaders likely experiencing multiple across the spectrum. How one responds to a crisis separates good leaders from great leaders. Throughout history some of the greatest leaders were forged through crucial times, such as Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Martin Luther King Jr. Challenge provides opportunities for learning and growth.

Great leaders respond in similar ways to crisis, often against the norm. What’s the commonality for all great leaders? They face hardship head on, focusing on what they can control, and allowing the crisis to transform them into great leaders. Here’s the truth, anyone can respond this way during a crisis! The requirement to rise to great leadership lies in taking a stand. Here are three ways great leaders actively lead during crises.

Carefully share your emotions

The stoic leader has been prized throughout history, heralded as the calm and collective person during crisis. This image may seem true, though it is not ideal leadership today. In the 21st century, with the existence of the internet and social media, we no longer desire leaders set apart from everyone else. People crave a calm, strong leader who is authentic. There is a great skill in balancing being calm in the storm while also letting your people know that they are not alone. 

As I write this, the COVID 19 pandemic ensues. CEOs and leaders have a wide range of responses and those celebrated have this in common: they remain calm and collective while conscientiously sharing their feelings of fear and uncertainty. These moments validate everyone’s fears and insecurities by saying “you are not alone in your feelings.” Overly stoic leaders are seen as unemotional or too different from the populus. On the other side of the spectrum is the fearful leader, inadvertently feeding the fear of others. Great leaders tow the line well, showing a clam strength while being honest about their feelings therefore connecting to others. I encourage you today to take time today to evaluate the message you are sending to your people. 

Share the truth

Through the COVID-19 crisis some companies have functioned as normal, others have laid off staff, temporarily shut their doors, closed for good, and everything in between.  Everyone knows these are uncertain times, where being laid off and companies closing are real potentials. Great leaders share the reality of the situation with their company. They paint a true picture of the status of the company. This could include statements such as “We have enough capital to prevent layoffs for a few months” or “It burdens our heart to admit layoffs are coming. We will tell you more when we know more.” Such statements show strength by addressing the truth of a situation, rather than avoiding a difficult reality.

Everyone knows things are bad, therefore tap into your courage to tell others the truth. Not knowing the reality of a situation encourages people to think through worst case scenarios in their mind, which are often much worse than the truth. Give your employees the courtesy of knowing the truth, so they can prepare for difficult outcomes or calm their racing minds, rather than live in the ambiguity and uncertainty. 

Give Hope 

There is always hope! No matter the calamity of a situation, there are slivers of hope all around us. Great leaders find the hope in a situation, share it with their people, and empower them to move forward. JFK’s famous statement “It’s not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” instilled hope in America, pointing out their impact in a difficult situation. In this COVID-19 pandemic, people show hope through buying groceries for the elderly, singing on balconies, or cherishing time with family. 

Be a hope spreader! Tell stories of employees caring for one another. Give people something to hold onto, stories that say reveal the beauty in the midst of the chaos. Be vulnerable sharing a story of how someone else gave you hope. When we take a moment to find hope in your current situation and share it with others, everyone will be changed.


Times of crisis show the character and integrity of us as individuals. Crisis provides opportunities to grow as a person and a leader, becoming the person you always wanted to be. If you are the CEO of a company, leader of a division, manager of two people, parent of a family, or simply a person with friends, you can be a great leader today. These people have been entrusted to you. Show your real emotions by empathizing with others, sharing the truth of the situation, and always giving hope. The world is filled with horrible things we cannot control. Take control of what you can to lead others well. What will you do with your influence today?