Download our FREE Leading Through Crisis guide.

11 tips, 6 books, and 1 film that will allow you to beat self-isolation as a leader.

    Leading Through Crisis; the tips and references you need to lead effectively in times of uncertainty. 

    As you’re aware, the recent outbreak of coronavirus has resulted in many countries seeing exponential rises in cases, with many world leaders having to make tough, quick decisions, and health care systems bracing at the frontline. We are in uncharted territory.

    We are all facing a time of great uncertainty, with organisations moving fast to protect their people and business. As a leader (which could just mean that others look to you), now is the time to step up.  In your families, in your communities, in your organisations.

    Tips for leading through crisis…

    In this free, downloadable Leading Through Crisis guide, associate tutor, James Willerton explores the following and provide references to explore leadership styles and approaches in more detail.

      1. Understanding who looks to you for leadership and considering what they need from you.
      2. Understanding fears and applying a rationality to them.  
      3. The importance of communicating regularly and clearly.
      4. Understanding and regulating your behavior as a leader. 
      5. Understanding yourself and your value system. 
      6. Supporting your own resilience and sustainability.
      7. Understanding the enormity and impact of the situation and acting accordingly. 
      8. Knowing when to reach out for help. 
      9. The importance of empathy.
      10. Doing what you can.
      11. Having faith that we will prevail, whilst confronting the brutal facts of reality. 

    In more detail…


    1. Understand who looks to you for leadership and consider what they need from you – “breathe in”.  Are you providing what is needed by others around you?


    Looking at things strategically, we might describe this current situation as being a “wicked” problem. It is complex, with no binary right or wrong solution, with no discernible end point. 

    Culturally in the West we often struggle with non-binary situations like this.  Add into the mix that our society in the round is not used to feeling vulnerable in a meaningful sense, and there is a palpable sense of fear propagating ahead of the virus itself. 

    Fear is a topic of great interest to many in leadership development and behavioural management, and we would strongly recommend the book “The Science of Fear” by Danial Gardner if you’d like to learn more.


    2. Don’t deny your fears but understand them and apply a rationality to them. Calm urgency beats panic.

    Man doing online learning

    Understand that others around us may well be in a state of fear themselves, which will alter behaviours (note: empty shelves in supermarkets.  A predictable but irrational fear-based behaviour, which creates collateral damage).

    Another model which may help us understand how to lead in this crisis is the Kübler-Ross Change Curve (originally from “On Death and Dying” by Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross).  We use this tool to map the emotional reaction individuals have to change events.  The takeaway here is that everyone reacts to change events in a similar emotional journey, but the amplitude and timescale of reaction will vary to the individual.  We are just starting to see anger coming through now: blaming the politicians, blaming the country of origin, public sector and private sector blaming each other, etc.  This is a natural emotional response predicted by the model.  The critical thing though is the different approaches and communication we deploy as leaders at different stages on the curve.


    3. During the early phases of change, it is vital to communicate regularly and clearly, using evidence where possible and detailing the steps which are being taken and why.

    It is also a time for authenticity.  In a crisis, time is in short supply and so the best route to effective leadership is to work with what is already within you.  Bill George covers this topic in several books including “Authentic Leadership”.


    4. The effective leader understands and regulates their own behaviours, but critically they can also harness the abilities of those around them towards a common objective.

    Of course, it is very difficult to achieve the above if you’re not feeling resilient and robust in yourself. In a crisis, leaders need to be conscious of the wellbeing of those around them, but also of themselves.

    5. Understand yourself and your value system – “breathe out”
    • What strengths do you have which might be valuable to those around you?
    • Are you a swift decision-maker who thrives being on the sharp end of operations?
    • Are you the calming voice who will look to the facts and ensure common sense prevails?Are you the one who will inspire others and deliver the message of fortitude and hope?


    6. Be kind to yourself and take steps to support your own resilience and sustainability – diet, sleep, exercise, mindfulness, humour, perspective, focus on the opportunities.  Attend to the basics.

    However one element of leadership in a crisis, and this may seem old-fashioned to some, is the concept of duty and self-sacrifice if necessary.  Simon Sinek touches on this in his book “Leaders Eat Last”.


    7. “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few 
    – (or the one).” (Dr Spock, “The Wrath of Khan” 1982)

    Captain Edward Smith (1850-1912) was known as the “Storm King” and as a legendary leader when he took command of the Titanic for her fateful maiden voyage.  However, when the ship struck an iceberg at 11:40pm on April 14th 1912, accounts describe him as “indecisive” and “cautious”. 

    Some report him offering conflicting orders.  Perhaps his ability to function as a leader was impaired by the fact that he knew enough to be certain that the ship was going down, and as Captain he would be expected to go down with her.  Not only a disaster for the ship, crew and passengers – but a man faced with his own death out of nowhere.  Chances are Capt. Smith was too busy processing the enormity of this to function as a leader.


    8. If you’re struggling to process the implications of what is happening, reach out for help.  Techniques such as professional coaching can be hugely helpful in times of pressure and consequence.  This could be for you and for others around you.

    Whereas the effects of this coronavirus won’t be everyone’s “Titanic” moment (indeed some organisations will do extremely well from the situation), it is important to recognise the severity for many.


    9. Have empathy for others and reach out where you feel you can.

    We are already seeing examples on social media of landlords telling their tenants not to worry if they have trouble paying rent, that their tenancy is safe no matter.  This might not be practical for all landlords but is a nice example of leadership from those who can.


    Virtual Classroom10. Do what you can; don’t ruminate on what you can’t do.

    A great tip from the Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great”.  Collins interviewed a chap called Adm. James Stockdale (1923-2005), who was the most senior officer shot down and captured during the Vietnam war. A prisoner of war for over 7 years, he took on the task of trying to lead in exceptional circumstances.  Many of his compatriots unfortunately died during their imprisonment.  When asked what made the difference between those who died and those who survived, he came up with what is known as “the Stockdale Paradox”.


    11. “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

    And all the current data points to the fact that we will, indeed, prevail in the end.  Things might get extremely tough in the here and now though. So if you have a little more time on your hands in self-isolation, need some time away from the kids (who will no doubt be at home with you), or you just want to take some positive action (“Mindset” Dr Carol Dweck) – take a moment to pause and reflect, and read a book or two with wine and our compliments.


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