How to be a More Effective Crisis Leader

Business leaders have faced many challenges in recent years, from 9/11 to the Great Recession of 2008. But the challenges presented by the outbreak of COVID-19 represent a whole new level of difficulties involved in leading a business through tough times.

Like everyone else, CEOs and business owners are navigating uncharted waters these days. However, certain traits and actions are generally successful regardless of the type of crisis a company and its leaders face. To become a more effective crisis leader, keep these tips in mind:

Be confident and project confidence.

In a crisis, employees and other stakeholders look to their leader to guide them through. That’s why it’s so important that business leaders understand the full scope of their strengths—where their input is most effective, and their strength of purpose most inspiring. They know that a crisis is the precise time to draw upon those strengths and boost the resolve of the people and organisations they serve.

“As a leader you should not panic,” notes Business2Community. “Propose solutions and clearly articulate your vision, thereby fostering a calm and focused team.”

Prioritise and delegate.

In a crisis, certain basic priorities must be addressed above all else. Depending on the organisation and its circumstances, top priorities can revolve around the physical well-being of its employees, preserving essential financial liquidity, and maintaining  high-quality service to customers.

It’s up to the leader to articulate those priorities, explain to everyone throughout the organisation how to act on those priorities, and to sweep aside more trifling concerns.

Equally vital is building a “crisis team” of strong-minded, dependable and talented employees. These are the individuals whom you trust to act on your vision. Make sure they clearly understand what’s expected of them. Delegate sufficient autonomy for them to make key decisions on their own.

“Your default should be to push decisions downward, not up,” notes the Harvard Business Review. Also, “embrace action, and don’t punish mistakes.”


Not every leader is a born communicator. But because reaching out to constituencies and reassuring them in a time of crisis is so essential, it’s never too late to learn good crisis communications skills.

Such skills include being able to “speak clearly, avoid technical jargon, get to the point, and intuitively understand how to deliver a message to different audiences.”

Even in difficult times, these skills can be mastered. If you feel there’s room for improvement, seek the help of a trained communications coach or advisor. At the very least, test your intended messages before a small audience of friends or colleagues before making a public appearance.

Take decisive action.

Probably the most effective crisis leadership trait is a person’s ability to absorb and process all available information—and then make a firm, actionable decision.

Every business leader has some experience with “analysis paralysis,” wherein the critical factors to be weighed appear overwhelming, and it’s impossible to determine the best next step. But this is where true leadership kicks in. Recognising that you can’t go on forever gathering and analysing information, an effective crisis leader weighs various pros and cons, then makes a decision and stays committed to it, as the company moves forward.

Practice good self-care.

During a crisis situation, it’s easy to forget about the basics. Business leaders and CEOs must take care of themselves, including:

  • Eat healthy, nourishing food.
  • Get some type of exercise and/or practice meditation.
  • Spend quality time with your family.

It’s virtually impossible to ignore good self-care and to succeed as a leader during a crisis.

TAB offers valuable tools and resources to help business leaders cope with the ongoing crisis. Find out more by registering for our complimentary TAB BOSS Webinar, “6 Tips for Crisis Communications During the Era of Coronavirus.