• 23 Apr 2020
  • SBS-ED
  • 7Min

5 steps to show qualities of a good leader in a crisis

5 steps to show qualities of a good leader in a crisis

Effective Crisis Leadership in Five Simple Steps

The adage “smooth waters never made a skilled sailor” now rings true for all business leaders as they navigate the treacherous waters of COVID-19. The Botswana government implemented partial travel restrictions a few days after the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed within its borders.

A full state of emergency was declared for at least six months, with extensive measures added to minimise the spread of the virus. This speedy action has shown incredible rewards with only 15 confirmed cases and one fatality. (as of 15 April 2020)

As the world adjusts to the new reality, the time for strategic crisis management is now. As someone in a position of leadership, you will need to learn to steer through the murky waters of risk management with ease and be prepared for the unknown ripple effect a worldwide pandemic can create.

The following five steps can be used as guide to help you implement a new approach right now but can also be used to strengthen and expand an existing crisis strategy.

5 simple steps to effect crisis leadership

1. Gather an expert team

In 600 B.C. Cyrus the Great said, “Diversity in counsel, unity in command”. What the infamous Persian king meant was that it is imperative to have a team of strategic advisers on board to decide on a united course of action.

Appointing a tactical team to focus on agile decision-making processes during the crisis will give you much needed support and accountability. The qualities of a good leader are to manage how things will change for the long term. Being able to delegate will give you some time to manage stress and rest as needed.

Selecting experts with a variety of backgrounds, expertise and knowledge is a no-brainer. The best approach will come from creating a ‘War Room’ council, with individuals strategising as equals with little tolerance for egos or grandstanding.

The main goal is to be solution oriented. When you use an ‘if/then’ approach, your team can provide a framework for a solution that covers many scenarios e.g. If this happens, then this should be how we react.

You should look at the motives of anyone willing to be a part of your crisis teams. Anyone who stands to gain financially from decisions needs to be very carefully vetted for the role. It will be hard to keep the trust of your employees and the public if they feel that there is an ounce of deceit. Transparency in the selection process will be your best bet against corruption speculation.

2. Make a Decision 

Time is of the essence during a crisis. There are countless important decisions that you will make on a regular basis with the help of key information, expertise, and opinions.

Peter Bregman, best-selling author of 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done, says that teams can struggle with coming to a speedy, harmonious decision. This can be time-consuming and counter-productive to the goal. Time management will be one of the most important leadership skills you can have during a crisis.

“Leadership teams tend to perseverate (prolong action) over this sort of decision for a long time, collecting more data, excessively weighing pros and cons, soliciting additional opinions, delaying while they wait – hoping for a clear answer to emerge,” says Bregman, who is a regular contributor for the Harvard Business Review. 

There are several tactics that you can implement to create a decision-inducing environment. Bregman says the most effective way to avoid analysis paralysis is simple – create a deadline. Set a timer and at the appointed hour, make a decision. The benefits will outweigh the drawbacks. 

“The time you save by not deliberating pointlessly will pay massive dividends in productivity.” 

3. Act Quickly 

South Korean and South African governments are now being lauded internationally for acting extremely efficiently in a bid to flatten the curve – with results that prove it was a well-executed strategy. However, at the time of their decision, many scoffed at their strict policies and ridiculed the idea of an unknown virus bringing the world to its knees.

Leaders have to find a balance between acting fast but not being reckless with spreading only half the story. President Trump once again found himself in a sticky position in early April this year when he declared that tech giant Google would be creating a site to help people know whether they should be tested for COVID-19 and assist them with locating a testing facility. This was not true.

A key component of crisis communication is reputation management. This kind of misinformation will simply take away any credibility that may have been garnered by previous positive activities, not just on a local level but globally too. Remember, what happens on the internet lives forever. 

4. Communicate

Evan Nierman, CEO of Florida-based PR firm Red Banyan and a member of Entrepreneurs Organisation (EO) says that to control the narrative during a crisis, information must be proactive.

“A reactive communications strategy is a losing one, especially for anyone in crisis or an organisation trying to deliver its message in a time of difficulty.” 

This can be difficult to do when trying to make sense of the chaos and implement plans but Nierman warns that not saying anything can be extremely detrimental because it “allows misconceptions and false information to harden”.

For those who already have crisis strategies in place, the rollout should be seamless. For those without a plan, one needs to be formulated at warp speed. Either way, it has to be executed perfectly. “The margin for error is non-existent.” 

Amy George of George Communications says that information needs to be disseminated profusely, externally to your key audiences but also within your organisation. “If you don’t maintain open communication with your people, you are heightening your staff’s stress levels during an already stressful time.”  

5. Post-event analysis

As soon as the crisis has subsided, your first reaction might be to sit back and take a break from the mayhem. But it is precisely at this moment that you will reap rewards by regrouping and do a thorough analysis of successes and failures with your ‘war council’. 

Beth Doane, Managing partner of Main and Rose, says that a proper post-mortem of a crisis can have a positive impact on a business. “Cultivate a strong brand culture both internally and externally that elevates transparency, honesty, and accountability.” 

By doing due diligence and vulnerability audits, the next crisis becomes easier to handle. “(By having) a clear plan and a designated team (in place) you can immediately jump into action.” 

Because if there is one thing for sure,  there will always be another crisis.


Leadership requires continuous education to keep abreast of best practices and new strategies for managing day-to-day activities and crisis management. USB-ED creates leaders that can interpret the challenges of globalisation with a strategic mindset. 

The Senior Management and Development Programme is perfect for senior managers from all industries who want to develop foresight and navigate shifts in a continually evolving landscape. 

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