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5 Tips for Leading Through a Crisis

What would constitute a crisis for you?

For some leaders and organisations, a crisis could include:

  • Losing their most valuable client

  • A significant drop in the value of stocks and shares

  • Increased costs that are out of control

  • Losing talent

  • Disruptors in the market place taking market share

  • Betrayal by a business partner

  • Overreaching resulting in critical cash flow

  • A mistake leading to a social media frenzy ripping apart the brand and reputation

Any of those is enough to frighten anyone, yet the reality is that everyone will face a crisis at some point. Some survive and even thrive, whilst others do not.

In this blog, we share our five tips for leading through a crisis.

Tip One: Beware of the Good Times

The first tip of our five tips for leading through a crisis is possibly also the most important. What we do in the good times determines what happens in a crisis. Good times are our most dangerous times because it is then that we can be at our most deluded, and, as humans, we have immense capacity to delude ourselves.

When we are successful, there is no burning platform to necessitate change and no crucible to test our systems, leadership, purpose, communication, relationships, capacity, and capability.

On your best day, celebrate as though it will never end, but prepare like there is a crisis just around the corner.

Benjamin Mays said, “The tragedy of life is often not in our failure, but rather in our complacency; not in our doing too much, but rather in our doing too little.”

Tip Two: Focus on Distributed Leadership

Leadership is complex. In our current context, we would suggest it is too complex for a single person to perform in a team. Distributed leadership allows others in the team to take responsibility for roles that would normally be associated with those of the leader or manager of the team.

Examples include:

  • Allocation of resources

  • Monitoring tasks

  • Evaluating progress

  • Conflict resolution

The team can then build toward becoming a self-managing team with peer-to-peer leadership.

This article from Hyper Island outlines the benefits of distributed leadership that are critical in a crisis:

  • Speed (to adjust quickly)

  • Productivity (to get things done)

  • Innovation (create new ways of doing things)

  • Retention (prevent the ‘flee’ response)

Tip Three: Do Not Revert To Type

When we feel under threat, we can do strange things. This tip of our five tips for leading through a crisis relies on personal self-awareness and the ability to step out of our context and take a step back.

It is not unusual for leaders who feel under threat to do the very things that make matters worse rather than doing what feels counterintuitive to improve. An example is taking more control, insisting that every decision is agreed upon, or significantly increasing pressure.

When we are under threat, these things can make us feel better, whereas empowering, releasing pressure, reducing what we do, and trusting people to make the decision can increase our feelings of threat, even though they are the very things that we need.

Our article, Crisis Leadership Competency Model, looks at those characteristics that we need to use, rather than the ones that feel right, when the threat levels increase.

Tip Four: Be Coached

Find an excellent expert external coach to hold up a mirror, challenge you, support you, give you feedback, and hold a space to think, reflect, and take a step back. Use the time to work hard on the things that will bring about personal and professional performance in a crisis.

There is nothing like gaining insight from an external perspective without judgement in a safe space. The most valuable learning often follows a time of reflection, something that most leaders say that they rarely have time to do.

Our blog, five reasons to work with an external coach, looks at this in more detail.

Tip Five: Coach

Developing a coaching habit takes time, effort, hard work, and focus, but it pays dividends. As Michael Bungay Stanier says in his book The Coaching Habit, “asking questions, holding the silence, and truly listening are straight-forward to achieve, but stopping giving advice and taking control are much more difficult.”

Making a coaching approach to your leadership a priority will mean that you are far more likely not to revert back to control and instruction in times of crisis. A coaching approach maintains empowerment and distributed leadership; it is a calm place in the storm, an effective method of creating success, new ideas, innovation and productivity in a crisis.

Of the five tips for leading in a crisis, this is the foundation, the bedrock on which to build the others.


In the good times, prepare by building the organisation you need to outperform and hit above your weight, both in the good times and in times of crisis. Consider doing this by using a coaching culture and distributed leadership.

Resist complacency, make sure, as Jim Collins says in his book Good to Great, that you seek out the brutal truth without losing heart. Try hard not to allow yourself to become deluded.

Contact us

We hope that this blog has helped you recognise how coaching can help leadership development be a success in a crisis.

Book a free consultation by calling us today if you want to find out how our leadership development coaching services can benefit your leaders.

Written by leadership coach Ian White.


Quote on compliancy from Benjamin Mays

Distributed leadership from Hyper Island

Good to Great by Jim Collins

The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier


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