Tall red office building in uncertain times
Business guide to Coronavirus

Leadership in uncertain times

Australia, and indeed the world at large, is facing both health and economic crises which are unprecedented in our modern, digital age.  No one has an easy frame of reference for a crisis of this nature, certainly not on a global scale, and nothing of this size has been managed through both a 24/7 news cycle and our use of social media. 

With more and more businesses moving their teams to home working or unfortunately having to stand down staff, effective and situational leadership is now more important than ever.

For leaders in a crisis situation, the most important thing to remember is that although there’s no obvious manual to follow, the basic skills of leadership still apply, and it is to you that your people will turn for direction. On that basis:

1. Stay calm

It might sound counter intuitive, but slow down as much as you can. The first instinct of most people in a crisis is to panic, which combined with higher stress and anxiety, can lead to a total meltdown. Try not to make snap decisions.  You should make fast decisions, as your people will be looking to you to be decisive, so don’t procrastinate, but do look to get as much information as you can in the time available before making your call.

2. Look after you

You can’t lead effectively if you’re not looking after yourself, which can be a lot harder than it sounds. Basics, like staying hydrated as well as eating and sleeping well, don’t come as naturally, so make sure you make time for yourself.  Watch your stress levels and exercise, or at the very least get out for some fresh air, as much as you can.

3. Control your emotions

Most, if not all of the decisions you make, will be better if you make them with a calmer mind. Crisis situations are by their very nature emotional but try to remove yourself from the situation as much as possible. Again, slow down, engage the rational rather than the emotional part of your brain and focus on the outcome, not the situation.

4. Set clear objectives

Its always easier to determine if you’ve achieved something if everyone knows what they’re trying to achieve, so be clear with aims and objectives. A crisis is also a good time to see if your organisational values hold and if your mission and purpose really fit your organisation and business model. You should always be able to rely on and refer to your purpose, especially in a time of crisis.

5. Be agile and resilient

It may seem obvious, but agility in a crisis is critical – you’re almost certainly not doing anything the same way as you would in a’ business as usual’ environment. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it may also mean that you’ll need to suspend some of your normal processes and procedures. 

This is where it helps to focus on resilience, or, on this instance, how well you cope with change. Some people are naturally more resilient than others, but if you feel you need to boost your resilience, then look for more support from people around you, try to reframe your thinking to being more neutral rather than negative in outlook and try to focus just on the things you can control.

6. Over communicate

Finally, communicate more than you ever thought necessary. It’s almost impossible to over communicate in a crisis but it’s also very important not to ‘sugar coat’ the messages. Leaders are often tempted not to give their teams bad news, or to temper that with a positive lens, but especially in a time of crisis, honest and transparent communications are more likely to ensure your people trust and value the information they’re receiving from you.

Finally, act with integrity and with common sense. Every crisis comes to an end at some point and in time you’ll want to be able to look back and assess your own performance as a leader and be happy with the way you behaved and how you steered your organisation through very difficult times.


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