How to stand out as a business leader during a crisis

Leadership isn’t an easy job at the best of times, but during a crisis, it’s the ultimate test for any business leader.

Rita Trehan, CEO of Dare Worldwide, shares what a good business leader looks like during a crisis, especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

When a crisis develops, leaders need to be dynamic and adaptive and have a clear plan and process in place to ensure the business can continue with as little disruption as possible.

Crisis planning is a vital process that every business must think about embedding into their infrastructure from the organisation’s conception. While, in today’s world, it is impossible to pre-empt every crisis, there are some core principles that every company can ensure they continually review and keep on their radar. During times, like the one we are experiencing now with the current coronavirus pandemic, having a set of “ready to implement” strategies can help leaders navigate this turbulent time, below are my recommendations, on what some of those strategies would encompass:

Re-prioritize and understand the situation yourself

Although you need to act quickly in a crisis, the most important thing is not to make any rash decisions, which could potentially harm your business and cause a knock-on effect that leads to further disruption.

Make the time to consider and take stock of the impact of the crisis on your business. Consider not just the impact in the short-term but what the longer-term horizon looks like as well. Look ahead and ask yourself what areas will be most affected and what mitigation strategies you might be able to deploy to lessen the impact.

Equally, consider whether there are new opportunities that you might be able to capitalise on, by reassigning resources and capital. Ultimately, whether the answer is to adapt the marketing strategy, or focusing on a narrower product range that’s been identified as essential to sales, cancelling or putting projects on hold and or having to decide to furlough staff. The critical thing is to build a comprehensive understanding of where your business stands in this crisis.

Once you have that, it’s easier to know how to reprioritise objectives and shift the focus of the company for the coming period. A clear plan of what needs to be achieved for a business to survive is crucial during times of mass-disruption and uncertainty.

As the business leader, it is your job to prepare for every eventuality, and by being prepared and having a well thought through plan of action, the team around you is likely to be far less anxious and more willing to see what they can do to help.

Identify your core team

No leader should aim to tackle a crisis single-handedly, no matter how capable and talented you may be. Great business leaders, know that strength comes from leveraging those around you. This means identifying a core team and harnessing their skills so you can tackle the crisis together. A senior leadership team should come together to share insights and perspectives and build a plan that each can then take some accountability for moving forward.

Being able to delegate during a stressful period is an art form and requires a significant amount of trust. It will serve you well as a business leader to remember that it’s your job to empower your workforce to make the right decisions, motivate them to get through this difficult time and support them every step of the way. Often a crisis will push people to perform, and as the saying goes, two heads are better than one.


Good communication is the foundation of a successful company. In a crisis, tensions run high, with uncertainty causing anxiety and stress from the top down. No member of staff is immune to the effects of a global pandemic, so proactive communication is vital. Whether it is to ease any concerns or to simply check in on their welfare. It’s important to show every corner of your business that there is always a two-way channel of communication present.

Employees and your other stakeholders are equally important priorities in the short-term. To help maintain trust and prevent speculation, business leaders must inform investors and customers of what they can expect from the business during the crisis. There is an insatiable thirst for news stories in the current climate and businesses need to communicate quickly, both internally and externally, if required, so they do not become headline news.

Be transparent and honest

In times of crisis, employees and customers need to receive personal reassurance, which means not merely churning out a corporate statement that has little empathy or information. Sincerity will be appreciated during this time, so business leaders should demonstrate and encourage empathy and emotion when communicating, being open, honest and transparent is what people seek during these times.

In today’s world, where information can be obtained at the click of a mouse, it’s unlikely the wool can be pulled over anyone’s eyes, whether that be your customers, staff or investors. Disruption is also a well-known precursor of a crisis, so, understandably, a business will face challenges while navigating through one. Therefore, it’s important to acknowledge the challenges you and your business face with your key stakeholders. Anticipate any questions or concerns they might have and address them head-on. It’s unreasonable to expect leaders to have all of the answers, but what will be expected is a clear plan of attack. Being honest and transparent will instil a sense of trust that will help your business survive.

Continually assess your strategy

As mere mortals, we cannot anticipate every future scenario, so expect new challenges to pop up along the way that you might not have prepared for. At these crossroads, you will need to decide whether you continue following your original plan or shift gears to try another approach.

I recommend re-assessing your plan frequently, whether that’s weekly, fortnightly or monthly, depending on the particular crisis and the rate of change – however hosting regular meetings to discuss how your approach is faring is essential.

For small businesses, it might be easy to keep tabs on how the crisis is impacting each sector of the company. However, as staff numbers grow, pulse surveys are a great way to stay in touch with what people think and get feedback on how the current strategy is working throughout your organisation.

Use the crisis to your advantage

The one silver lining in a crisis is that once resolved you can learn invaluable lessons from the process.

Could you have stopped the crisis at the source of the problem, were there mistakes in your planning, did you resolve the issue fast enough? These are all questions you need to ask yourself to prevent history from repeating itself. Although it is not an ideal way of learning, a crisis will serve as a valuable training resource for the future, highlighting any knowledge, experience, or development gaps within an organisation.

Ultimately there will always be challenges to face in business, but how a leader approaches and navigates one will be the defining factor of their success. A leader that takes control of their business and empowers their team and communicates effectively will be the leader that not only survives a crisis but thrives in one.

Rita Trehan is a sought-after international speaker, global business transformation expert and CEO of transformation consultancy Dare Worldwide. She’s helped companies ranging from Fortune 200, large corporations worldwide through to start-ups transform their organisations, creating workplace cultures and developing leadership capabilities that result in sustainable performance.

The 2nd Edition of her new book, Unleashing Capacity: The hidden human resources (LID, 2019) is available now, and you can listen to her podcast, Daring To With Rita Trehan, via Apple Podcasts, Spotify or TuneIn.

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