08 Jun

Leadership in Crisis: How to Weather the Storm

It has been said that we learn more from defeats than victories. The crushing blow of a failure can, in fact, teach valuable lessons in how to perform better the next time.

When things are going well, leadership is exciting! There is time for innovation and change. The sky is the limit for success.



Crisis, however, can strike without warning. Suddenly, being the leader stops being as much fun.

Perhaps one of the most telling demonstrations of a leader’s abilities comes during a time of crisis. How can an effective leader handle such a situation?

During the Storm

All eyes are generally focused on the leader for direction and assistance during times of crisis. A leader must rise to the challenge.


When faced with a stressful situation, some people want to run and hide. A good leader, however, knows that a crisis is the truest test of leadership.

Rather than retreating behind closed doors, leaders need to be at the forefront, assessing the situation, evaluating options, and encouraging team members to work together to problem solve.

Now, more than ever, is the time to be both decisive and compelling. The leader who wavers or seems unsure of the right decision will not be effective in guiding the team through the storm.

Face Reality

Having a positive outlook can is important. Denial, however, isn’t going to solve anything and may actually make a situation worse.

There is a time for positivity, even in a crisis, but there is also a time for reality. Crisis situations demand a realistic assessment of the circumstances so a real plan can be enacted.

Leaders who acknowledge the present reality are more effective than the leader who glosses over problems in a hope that they’ll just go away.

  • Facing reality: “Things aren’t looking too good right now. Let’s rally as a team and see how quickly we can get this resolved.”
  • Avoiding reality: “It’s not that big of a deal! I’m sure you can handle it!”

Focus On the Present

In general, it’s the leader’s responsibility to be forward-thinking. During a time of crisis though, the leader needs to focus on the here-and-now.

The leader needs to be focused on survival. Often, survival means the usual way of doing things must give way to a new strategy. Leaders need to be open to changing and adapting in the spur of the moment in order to weather the crisis effectively.

Get In Front

Inspiring team members to confront their challenges is not a task that can be done from the back, pushing people forward. A leader must be in front, leading the way into the crisis.

This means rolling up the sleeves, getting involved in the situation, and helping wherever there is an opening. Leaders know that challenging situations often demand long hours and are willing to make the necessary sacrifices until the crisis is resolved.

First in and last out is more than a catch-phrase; it’s the way of life for the truly great leaders.

When the Smoke Has Cleared

Once the storm has passed, it’s time to reevaluate the situation and get back on firm ground.

Celebrate Survival

Surviving a crisis is reason to celebrate. Leaders need to congratulate a job well done and acknowledge individual contributions. Team members have earned the right to pat themselves on the back.

Whether the celebration is short and sweet or grand an elaborate, the method of celebration doesn’t matter as much as the recognition.

Acknowledge the Effects of Stress

Physically, stress can wreak havoc on a person.

  • The body releases endorphins and adrenaline, providing the necessary energy to deal with the crisis.
  • Breathing quickens, blood pressure rises, and muscles tighten.
  • Headaches, muscle aches, and nausea are not uncommon.
  • Stress causes people to feel overwhelmed, moody or angry.

Once the crisis is over, body processes slow down and return to normal, but may need time to rest and recover.

It’s important to acknowledge the physical effects that a crisis can have on team members. Provide them with the opportunity to physically and mentally recover. It’s equally important that a leader takes the time to recuperate too.

Evaluate the Team’s Response

As things return to normal, gather the team to evaluate how well the crisis was managed.

  • Did the team work together?
  • Who performed above expectations?
  • What worked well during the crisis, and what didn’t?

Allow team members to provide input into their perspective of the crisis and make necessary adjustments based on the results. Not only does this time of reflection give important feedback on the previous crisis, it also provides an opportunity to improve for the future.

Evaluate Individuals

Crisis situations can identify individual strengths and weaknesses. Evaluate how each team member functioned during the crisis, and use the opportunity to meet with each member for review.

A crisis can identify areas where additional training may be needed, or it can showcase skills and qualities that were previously unknown.

Cross Train

Team members capable of handling more than one responsibility are valuable assets. Not everyone is capable of fulfilling every role on the team, but having people who can fill in during times of crisis is often the key to survival.

Implement a training program for the areas where cross-training would be appropriate.

Things can and do go wrong. Successful leaders are not only prepared to handle the crisis, they use the opportunity to grow and develop an even stronger team.