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Five Strategies for Crisis Leadership

July 11, 2020
You may be overwhelmed but you must be ready to respond at a moment’s notice. Learn to withstand any challenge and emerge stronger for the effort.

Business owners, executives, and managers in every industry are living in a state of overwhelm right now. The rules of business have changed seemingly overnight, and many of them are struggling to adapt to the "new normal" of our current reality. The number of decisions business leaders must make daily is staggering. How to communicate with customers? What to do about projects put on hold? How do we keep employees safe? What kind of infrastructure do we need to support remote workers? And, most pressing of all, what steps must we take to ensure our business survives this crisis?

Being a business leader requires you to be nimble and ready to react at a moment’s notice. But that does not negate the fact that you feel stressed and overwhelmed. Now, more than ever, you need to commit to goals and quell any fears that may be holding you back, or holding back your organization.

These are five strategies that will help you persevere, stay on track with your goals, and emerge from the crisis victoriously.

1. Be tenacious. As an executive or manager, it's likely you decided a long time ago to be tenacious. If you had not, you wouldn’t be in the position you are today. Now is the time to  renew that commitment, not back away from it. Times of crisis demand boldness, innovation, and tenacity. If you feel your tenacity wavering, find a phrase or maxim that is powerful and motivating for you, and play it on a loop in your mind. Some leaders reminding themselves to “never give up,” “tough times don’t last; tough people do,” and “persistence breaks down resistance.” Pick a phrase that works for you and rely on it.

2. Recall past crises. We’ve all overcome challenges in the past. A business failure, a job loss, the death of a loved one, … no one’s life is without obstacles. Believe it or not, this a good thin, because living and working through setbacks teaches important and useful skills. While the current global challenge may seem different than anything anyone has experienced before, the personal and managerial skills you have honed during other challenges can be relied on to get you through the current crisis. Focus on the skills you already have.

3. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. During a crisis you will need to try new things — maybe things you never imagined you’d do— and that may mean being uncomfortable. Many business leaders are doing live videos on social media to stay in front of customers and prospects. They may be comfortable giving scripted messages to a camera; talking off the cuff in an unofficial or personal setting is quite different. During any crisis, “business as usual” is not enough, so think about what new, uncomfortable things you can do to keep your organization top-of-mind for your customers.

4. Reinvent your message. If your productivity has dropped or projects have been put on hold, “wait and see” is a dangerous stance. You need to keep your organization profitable during the crisis, so you may need to revise your message and your offerings. Major manufacturers and small businesses across the country have shifted their offerings during the current crisis.

Find the need your customers have right now (it may be quite different from their needs three months ago), and shift your organization to meet these current needs. Repositioning may mean only a slight pivot, not a 180° change, and your leadership role means you probably know already how to shape a position. Put that skill to work again now.

5. Protect your organization's culture. You must nurture and protect the organizational culture you’ve worked to create, so that it will withstand the crisis with you. This requires you to model strength for your team, and to communicate with them honestly and often. Your goal is to minimize fear and make your team feel secure. Let them know that they are doing well amid the changes. Listen to their ideas. Ensure they feel they are part of the team. Above all, make it clear that will lead them through the crisis.

Leadership joins personal strengths with interpersonal and public action. In a crisis, you must assess the situation, determine where you can improve current circumstances for your own organization and your customers, and then act using the strategies outlined here. You'll find that you and your organization can withstand any challenge and emerge stronger for the effort.

Shelley Armato is CEO of MySmartPlans, a provider of SaaS construction technology that eliminates risk, creates transparency and protects the budget. She provides professional construction services business owners in healthcare, academia, government, and commercial market sectors. Contact her at