Leadership in times of crisis

Laura Coman

13 minutes read

Leaders are often seen as superheroes, tasked not only with steering their companies out of economic or other types of crises but also, more generally, of leading through hardship regardless or even despite of the general context. But it is actually the employees who are crucial to any of these tasks. What makes a good leader and how can she keep her employees close, not only in good times but especially during hard, difficult times?

But before asking ourselves „What makes a good leader/manager in times of crisis” we should think about what actually makes a good leader or manager, full stop. Obviously, the list is endless but I think there are several attributes that we can all agree on: vision, empathy and emotional intelligence, dedication, determination and strength of character, and last but not least, self-confidence and the ability to trust her team.

In times of crisis, with market conditions constantly evolving and companies fighting for survival, a good leader will not only stick to these values but will also strive for results. And why is it so important that a leader does not veer off her values? Well, because employees will not forget that and it will be a big part of their decision to stay with an organization when things go back to normal.

We often see that the people who decide to stay, to „hang on” in a company, motivated only by the difficult times and because they need the money, the people who are willing to tolerate a difficult managerial style are only doing it because their plan is to leave once the context improves and they are offered a position in another company. At the same time, we often see employees who, on the contrary, despite being offered a far better financial compensation by a different company they chose to stay with the current one motivating their choice by the managerial style.

Today’s accumulated frustration will transform into tomorrow’s decision to leave.

And at first sight, things might not seem so serious. We can certainly find new people to fill in the gaps, but the resources that we invest in the recruitment process, in training the new employees, in the time they take to adapt the culture of our organization will only slow down our pace towards meeting the set goals and will have a negative impact not only on the budgets but also on our company’s reputation.

On the other hand, if a leader knows how to efficiently communicate with her teams, how to offer support and act transparently, if she can prove that she is willing to roll up her sleeves and work side by side her team, employees will think twice before accepting an offer from another company.

There is no shortage of people who stay in a company despite not being completely happy with the financial compensation; and yet they stay because they feel at home at work, because they resonate with the rest of the team members and the culture within the organization, and not least because feel the company goals are their own.

And if you as an employer have this kind of people in your team you know that come the next crisis you can count on them to keep you company afloat in difficult times. This is what it means to be a good leader: make the employee want to stay (in your company). And, as we were saying, financial compensation is not always the solution even though, it’s not something that should be overlooked.

But going back to the qualities that make a leader, let’s talk about the vision. It’s a word that comes up often in conversations with business leaders. But if for some companies, for a long time, the vision meant just a goal to attain and towards which to direct all the available resources – say, for example, be the market leader in a specific industry, nowadays, I think, it’s more important than ever to expand this vision to a global market level and to adapt to challenges of an ever evolving market and the context where it operates.

It is vital that the vision also integrates the means which make possible attaining the goals, and here we talk again about the employees because it’s only through them that the goals can be attained. And if we talk about employees, we automatically talk about new working regimes. In order retain our teams we must adapt to the latest trends in the workforce market, and the most important one is the transition towards remote work or the hybrid work regime.

Empathy and emotional intelligence are another must in the list of qualities that make a good leader. And this does not only mean the ability to listen when employees come to report a problem and need a shoulder to cry on. It also means knowing how to break some bad news – even if that is about layoffs which are inevitable in some industries in times of crisis, it means knowing how to tell an employee that they are not performing their tasks correctly and doing that without humiliating them (I think we all witnessed the awkward scene where the manager, in a room full of embarrassed people, is shouting at an employee who didn’t manage to finish that blessed report in time), it means knowing how to integrate a new member into the team and make them feel welcome, it means knowing how to motivate the team so as to obtain from them the desired results without working them to exhaustion, and so on and so forth.

Dedication, as we were saying, means, among other things, being ready to work side by side with your team members and during the pandemic this quality was put to the test particularly well. And here, the best example is that of the medical personnel who, regardless of their rank and working together, bore the brunt of the pandemic and gave their best in order to save the lives of other people and find solutions to combating the ongoing health crisis.

Determination and strength of character are also other essential qualities of a leader in times of crisis. A discouraged leader, a leader who is prepared to give in when confronted with a challenge will not be able to encourage her team. On the other hand, strength of character does not mean that a leader shouldn’t allow her human side to come out, that she should conceal her worries or fears, on the contrary. But the emotional transparency that makes leaders feel closer to their teams should be partnered with a positive, optimistic attitude – the leader should be a fighter.

And finally, self-confidence and confidence in their team only come to complete the list of qualities that make up a true leader. A leader who is self-confident will know that she has the ability to coordinate her teams towards meeting their goals regardless of whether these teams work from the office next door or from another city.

Such a manager knows how to communicate efficiently, knows when and how to ask for results and, more importantly, knows how to make her employees trust her and her ability to guide them through the crisis that might come up along the way, offering them in exchange the same trust that she receives from them.

What are, in your opinion, the essential qualities that a leader should have in times of crisis?

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Written by Laura Coman


Freelancer, I am curious by nature, with a passion for writing and reading, especially in places that inspire me, which I choose according to mood and season: an intimate café, a blossoming park – as long as the battery holds – or a coworking space with modern facilities.

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