5 Tips on Leading Your Team in a Crisis

April 7, 2020

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold, some organisations will prevail while for others the future may be very bleak. The actions and behaviours of business leaders and their teams right now will significantly determine how organisations fare in the long months ahead.

A crisis, by its nature, causes fear, and leaders and their teams will feel very anxious. In order to cope with this crisis, there is a need to both Lead and Manage effectively – but it is important to understand the difference between the two.

Managing is about addressing immediate needs with quick decision-making and actions that are key to success. Leading, by comparison, is about guiding people to the best outcome over the longer term, where strategic decisions based on future predictions are crucial. This is especially relevant right now.

According to the Harvard Business Review, which has researched and observed public and private-sector executives in high-stakes, high-pressure situations, they have discovered that ‘crises are most often over-managed and under led’.

So, what steps can we take to ensure we don’t ‘under-lead’ during the Covid-19 Pandemic?

1. Take a Broad View

In a time of crisis, human beings are biologically programmed to narrow their focus to deal with the immediate threat. While this is clearly beneficial and logical, from a leadership perspective it is critical to broaden your view so that you can measure and balance strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities over the longer arc of the crisis. By stepping back to form a holistic business continuity strategy that road-maps responses across a range of business pillars, effective leaders can protect their management team over the duration of a crisis and enable them to deal with more immediate operational issues day to day.

2. Focus on Leading, not Managing

Resist the urge to jump in and firefight at the operational frontline, despite the desire to do so. Instead, understand that the intrinsic value effective leaders can bring is the ability to take the long view. This long-term leadership includes forming a strategic plan across key business pillars over the month, quarter, 6-month and annual timeline where you attempt to anticipate risks and responses as a result. Provide the structure, comfort and roadmap over time so that your management team can be more effective in the present.

3. Acknowledge that you Can’t Control Everything

Every crisis results in uncertainty and change. Organisations will be impacted by the unpredictable macro drivers that result from a global crisis. When this occurs, it is more beneficial for organisations to be more fluid and capable of rapidly adapting to change as it happens. Leaders need to facilitate this fluidity, and to do this they need to once again resist the immediate urge to control everything. In a crisis, the reality is that control is not possible, and a fixation on it can hurt the organisation in the long term. The goal is order, not control. Order lets people know what is expected of them and what they can expect of others. Establish order and do what you know you can do well, but delegate the rest and don’t try to do everything yourself.

4. Your People are Your Most Important Resource

More than ever before, given the COVID-19 pandemic, your people and their response to this crisis are absolutely critical. Personal safety behaviours (e.g. handwashing; physical distancing) and the routine adoption of these for the foreseeable are the most important deterrent to the spread and impact of coronavirus. Your people may be continuing to provide critical services during the crisis, and putting themselves on the frontline in areas such as healthcare, distribution, retail, etc. Your people will be instrumental in your organisation’s rapid response and in your business continuity and recovery efforts. Effective leaders know that their human resources are the lifeblood of their organisation’s resilience, so communicate well with your people, support them, and work with them to ensure you all come out the other side together and stronger.

5. Foster Staff Morale and Wellbeing

As mentioned in point 3 above, there are many things we can’t control – but there are some that we can and must. The assurances we can offer, the support we make available, and the way we communicate: all make a huge difference to the way our staff feel. We know that in the current COVID-19 pandemic many of our staff will be isolated, confined or worried in terms of their own health, their future finances and employment, and the people they care about and work for. In a crisis, staff must understand the ‘why’ of certain decisions and be engaged in the process. Communication is key and staying connected through remote applications can work very well. The current crisis affects every human being, and authentic and effective leaders feel responsible for ensuring that their staff are cared for and communicated with in uncertain times.

The tips above are designed to support long-term resilience and effective business continuity in the midst of the current crisis, and its inevitable aftermath. The most effective leaders in crises ensure that someone else is managing the present well, while they focus their attention on leading beyond the crisis, towards a more promising future.

To get information on our Bespoke COVID-19 Risk Management Solutions, contact SeaChange on +353 45 856028 or

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