Resilient Leadership in times of Crisis

It is said that when times get tough, a leader will become either really big or really small.

A crisis true to its name meaning — derived from Greek word krisis, meaning “turning point in a disease.” At such a moment, the person with the disease could get better or worse — is a critical moment which could expose what a leader is made of. As John Maxwell puts it, “Crisis don’t make us, crisis reveals us. A crisis reveals what is inside of us.”

In times of crisis, people tend to look for a leader to solve the problem, taking the necessary steps to ensure survival, providing psychological safety. According to Centauric LLC, a California-based global consultancy firm, this can be expressed as the following formula:

Psychological Safety Formula

Let’s consider each component in this formula.

In leadership workshops, when participants are asked what qualities they admire in leaders, all too often we hear attributes such as compassion, integrity, ability to inspire and honesty. If we then had to ask the same participants how many they know who possesses these attributes, a low number would be expected. The reality is that many individuals in leadership positions did not get their role due to their leadership skills, rather other factors such as their connections, public speaking ability or branding. The current Covid-19 crisis continues to be felt globally as it disrupts the lives of ordinary people to varying degrees. Having an understanding of how to be an effective leader in these times of crisis times serves to enable “leaders” to have clarity on the prevailing human needs, and their associated emotions. Taking action to respond to these needs and being able to calibrate to the associated emotions.

Amid the uncertainty in times of crises, leading effectively can empower teams to stay focused and aligned.

In an article published by Harvard Business Review the following four behaviours were identified:

Behaviour 1: Decide with speed over precision.

Behaviour 2: Adapt boldly.

Behaviour 3: Reliably deliver.

Behaviour 4: Engage for impact.

In executing the first two behaviours, the leader needs to act timeously with a “workable solution”, rather than the perfect solution, adapting and re-pivoting where necessary. No matter how tough things get going… for a leader, giving the impression of “certainty” — manifested by being determined to achieve the mission — is a powerful energetic force essential for breaking inertia and developing momentum in order to motivate and inspire men. In the uncertain world we are in living in today, characterised by VUCA (volatile, uncertain, chaos, ambiguous), owning both the narrative from the outset of the present situation and the plan for a positive outlook based on a compelling picture of what the future may look like, provides a sense of control as reality is defined, albeit the “new normal”, and inspires people to persevere. Research has shown that for effective implementation of one’s vision, we need to incorporate into positive thinking a real sense of reality of what could go wrong or pain which is likely to be endured en route to the end goal. Scientifically this is called mental contrasting with implementation intentions (MCII). This technique is carried out by mental contrasting of a positive future with the obstacles of reality, forming implementation intentions consisting of the plan to overcome these obstacles.

Having a clear vision and value system (either personal or passed down from the organization) that can be communicated so direct reports understand it, feel ownership of it, and endorse it, is a powerful influencing tool, before, during, and after a crisis.

Clarity of vision to inspire confidence

Clarity of vision to inspire confidence

The leader’s vision should resonate with the values of the people, typically expressed by their prevailing needs. In times of crisis in particular, where uncertainty abounds, a vision which is aligned with the needs provides for a credible vision which people can buy into, providing stability for collective action.

Effective leadership is all about results, which the leader can assess. No matter how good the leader thinks his result is, in the words of the legendary American college basketball coach Don Meyer: “We can always do it better.”

Although the leader may have formal reporting lines in place, there is no substitute for proactively engaging on a 360 degree basis. Whilst serving as a Navigation Officer on a naval warship in charge of all the ship’s navigation, there were stock-take reports sent to me on a regular basis. I ensured that I made the effort to personally inspect the underlying facts in the reports. We would call this approach using your “eyeball Mk 1” (a light hearted reference to navy weaponry, which often has the (Mk1) designation), this provides comfort that, in a case of emergency, we have the necessary navigational equipment. This also serves to engage with your people, eliminating the perils of operating from an “ivory tower” and enables you to receive honest, informal feedback.

A healthy culture powered by shared values the associated behaviours plus pragmatic policy to avoid being hamstrung in working towards the mission. Values are regarded as being the foundation of an organisation’s culture; shared values create a robust organisation. An organisation’s culture could mean the difference between success and failure. According to research by Deloitte: 94% of executives believe a distinct corporate culture is important to an organisation’s success. These shared values are enhanced by having clarity on ethical standards and promoting accountability, with everyone taking ownership. The working environment also needs to be conducive to using one’s initiative towards the mission, without fear of being belittled or ostracised if the desired results are not obtained. There are mirror neurons in our brains that mimic what they “see”. You may have heard of yawning being contagious. At a study conducted at Duke University where individuals watched a 3 minute yawning video. Of the 328 people studied, there were 222 who contagiously yawned at least once.

Understand the neuroscience behind this, we realise that we are able to create a positive working with positive behaviour, such as greeting with a smile, being supportive in times of failure and paying compliments environment. This is then replicated by those experiencing or witnessing this behaviour

It is not all up to the leader though, there is also a responsibility for each person to work on moving up Dr David Hawkins’ Scale of Consciousness (see below), practising personal leadership taking charge of one’s own emotions. Mental Skills to control emotions and attention control by monitoring internal dialogue, serving to increase mental toughness to withstand stress. There are numerous self-help techniques to achieve this, such as healthy daily routines. The reality is that this crisis will affect everyone on some level, whether it be employee morale for both the “essential services” and those working from home, ability to focus, stress levels, relationships, and particularly those who no longer wake up to having a means of earning an income.

Scale of Consciousness based on Dr David Hawkins

Scale of Consciousness Based on Dr David Hawkins


As a crisis or high stress situation leads people to high self-orientation, expressed as self-preservation, this effectively moves down the pyramid of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

A crisis generates emotions of fear expressed as anxiety, doubt and confusion, which can stop a leader in their tracks as there is no instruction manual on how to counter all the adverse eventualities presented in these days of VUCA. By using these behaviour traits as guiding principles, the leader could tap into their creative genius and intuition within, and use the Warrior Mindset to step into the so-called “war-time leader” role to confront the crisis.

The Centre for Leadership offers a range of courses, group facilitation and consultancy to build high performing teams and leaders. For tailor-made solutions to your challenges, please get in touch with us.