Leading through the COVID-19 crisis

Part 1: Effective crisis leadership practices

Assign key roles leveraging team strengths

In addition to establishing a crisis management team, it is important to identify and assemble talented people with vital capabilities in key areas like data analytics, IT, operations, HR, risk management, finance and communications. Assigning people with critical skills to help manage the crisis will ensure the crisis management team has high quality information, expertise and insights, as well as timely support, advice and feedback, to respond effectively. For example, financial analysts and marketing experts can be tasked with providing high quality management information on the likely impact of the virus on the business’s financial health and how best to allocate resources to ensure the fastest possible recovery.

Act decisively, not rashly

Communicate regularly and clearly

Communication needs to be transparent, straightforward and tested from different stakeholder perspectives before it is communicated. The crisis management team needs to ask:

  1. What key messages do we wish to communicate?
  2. Who will communicate the messages?
  3. How will we ensure messages are communicated in a timely, clear and transparent way?
  4. How might the message be received by different audiences? How will they react? (Think, Feel, Act).
  5. What questions might arise and how will we respond to them?

It is vital that team members feel they are safe to provide constructive criticism to ensure dishonest, incomplete and inaccurate messages are weeded out or modified. Teams need to be particularly vigilant to avoid “groupthink”, or the tendency of group members to reach irrational or poor decisions to maintain harmony or conform to a dominant opinion.

Some of the key questions that need to be addressed in communications include:

  • What is happening?
  • Who is taking charge of the response and recovery efforts?
  • What does it mean for us? What are the likely implications?
  • How will we recover from it?
  • What are the main priorities once the restrictions are lifted?
  • How can we all help one another through this?

Safeguard employees and regulate distress

Safeguarding goes beyond ensuring the correct health and safety protocols and protective equipment are provided during the crisis. It also means regularly checking in on the wellbeing of staff to see how they are doing. Leaders and managers need to be on the lookout for early warning signs of people suffering unhealthy levels of stress and anxiety so these difficulties can be tackled before they cause severe mental health problems.

In a crisis like this, emotions run high and many people will experience strong feelings in response to rapidly changing events and news. Some people might become particularly stressed and require additional support and reassurance to stay focused and productive. It is important for leaders to listen and empathize with these individuals to understand their anxiety and concerns. Leaders should remind people to focus on what they can control, offer their support and encourage individuals to reach out to others in the team. They should also encourage those most at risk to seek out specialist mental health support from their local GP, EAP counsellors (if the organization has an Employee Assistance Programme) or charities like Samaritans or Mind.

Empower people to remain productive

Digital communications and project management platforms and apps like Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams and WhatsApp should be leveraged to ensure regular communication, support and feedback if employees are working from home. In addition to formal team meetings and one-on-one discussions, leaders can also use online channels for informal check-ins, coffee meetups and socials. This is where leaders can be creative and invite ideas from their team members about how to make online communication more engaging, fun and interactive.

Be ready to adapt quickly

Leaders also need to prepare for the recovery efforts. This involves evaluating and planning how to tackle the financial, employee, customer and any legal implications of the crisis. It also means exploring lessons from the crisis and how to prepare for future crises to mitigate the risks and damage.

A novel crisis of such magnitude can be hugely disruptive and impact an organization for months or even years. However, by building resilience, agility and collective resourcefulness through optimizing the strengths of their people and partners, business leaders can help their organizations recover quicker with their reputation, processes and employee motivation in better shape to deal with the challenges ahead.

Part 2 of this blog series next week will focus on how to support your customers during the crisis.

About the Author

James Brook
Founder and MD | Leadership Consultant & Psychologist

James has over 25 years’ experience working with leaders and organizations internationally to optimize their performance, talent and future success. He has worked with leaders from diverse sectors, countries and cultures to develop high-trust, positive leadership and thriving workplaces. Clients have included Commvault, Equinor, Facebook, Gilead Sciences, GSK, John Lewis, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, Novo Nordisk, Oracle, Sainsbury’s, Swiss Re, Tesco, Yahoo! and WSP.

James has set-up and successfully grown several of his own businesses, including Strengthscope®, a global strengths assessment and consulting business. As Joint Founder and MD, he grew Strengthscope® into a market leader before selling his share of the business in 2018.

James is an accomplished author and speaker on leadership, coaching, innovative talent management, positive organizations and the future of work. His most recent book, Optimize Your Strengths, explores how leaders can create thriving workplaces by inspiring and supporting people to optimize their potential and teamwork to deliver exceptional results.

Get in touch to find out how we can help your leaders deliver breakthrough performance and thriving workplaces? Contact us now for an obligation free chat.



We develop positive leaders and thriving workplaces to deliver breakthrough performance, innovation and sustainable growth. www.plexusleadership.com

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Plexus Leadership

We develop positive leaders and thriving workplaces to deliver breakthrough performance, innovation and sustainable growth. www.plexusleadership.com