Leading Through Crisis

Many of us as leaders never anticipated the day our world would be shaken to its core and force us into immediate social isolation due to a disrupting pandemic. This had a profound impact on me and my family. We immediately found ourselves confronted with homeschooling a child on the autism spectrum, working from home full-time, being a long way away from family, and managing our individual anxiety associated with the unknowns of this virus.

As a leader, I found myself dealing with a vast number of challenges across the organization. Our people were navigating homeschooling multiple children while balancing two or more careers. We learned of our people who were caregivers for their parents or grandparents. Our customers and partners were scared, frustrated, and hopeful that this would not last long. They were worried about their ability to meet their staff’s virtual needs and the needs of their customers, all while trying to anticipate and brace for the impact on their business.


I have spoken to a number of people who now find themselves unemployed, overworked, and experiencing odd sicknesses, not sure if it is because they are now infected with COVID-19. I have heard of those who were diagnosed and recovered, and others who could not fight that fight and their precious life was taken from them instantly. With each day that passes, our people are now starting to know at least one person that has experienced loss from this virus. This is creating a ton of fear, although we are trained to hide it and keep pushing forward.

Leading through crisis is not easy. However, there are a few things I would love to add to your library of resources and advice as we navigate through this tough time.

1)  Planning – As this pandemic spread, and the timing for it to end becomes a moving target, you must start to think within time blocks. Make decisions 30-days at a time and sometimes, depending on the issue, you may have to do it daily/hourly. Try to abandon what you have always done and think about the needs of your people first and then the business, customers and your partners needs going forward.

2)   Slow to Anger – In stressful times, some of us tend to be quick to respond and let our emotions show through our communication. Recognize that during these times you need to be kind with your words. You will never know what people are going through. Dial-up your empathy and think before you speak. Everything you say will either cast a shadow or lift them up at this time.

3)   Over Communicate & Inspire Confidence – In the absence of information people will make up stories. Over-communicate what is going on and it’s ok to say we don’t have an answer now. Let them know you are navigating the waters with them and trying to be thoughtful about every decision. When you get it wrong, own it. You will get so much respect from your team when you do that. They want a leader they can trust and who will be honest with them. Our people are resilient.

4)   Stay Connected to Your People – Keep a lifeline with your people. During these times reach out more through various communication vehicles and stay connected. Also, be mindful things change daily. Just inquire about “how are you doing today”. That way you create space to meet them where they are at and support them where needed.

5)   Be a Feedback Junkie – Form online listening mechanisms, advisory boards, think tanks, virtual roundtables, or whatever it takes to invite their perspectives into what decisions are being made. I have learned we can be much more effective as leaders if we put some great people together, check our egos at the virtual door, and just listen. Our people will open-up if they know you value the feedback and will act. Give them an opportunity to help you determine the needs of your people, the business and offer possible solutions.

6)   Self-Care – As leaders, it’s our responsibility to take care of others. During this time don’t forget to put yourself back on the list. The kindest thing you can do for everyone is take care of yourself. If your body is giving you a distress signal, listen. Pain is a signal something is wrong. Be good to yourself so you can bring your best self to work. Your people are counting on you to lead them through this crisis.

I encourage all leaders to remember these principles as we continue to stay safe and healthy. Most of all be kind, to yourself and to others – we will get through this together!

For more bite-sized inspiration, follow me on Instagram @phillipslani_.