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about 2 years ago by Helen Doughty

5 leadership skills EVERYONE needs in a crisis

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Change can be a daunting prospect. Whether this change is necessitated by positive transformation, or by the detrimental effects of adverse situations, employees are likely worried about the implications of such change on their careers.

For example, digital transformation may well include optimising your business through the implementation of new technology. This is hugely positive for the business, in fact according to Forbes, companies that go through digital transformation see an almost immediate upswing in productivity of around 39% on average, yet whilst you’re thinking about how improved your prospects are due to the move, your employees will inevitably be anxious about whether this will be coupled with redundancies.

Leadership through COVID-19

Another obvious example is the coronavirus pandemic. The virus necessitated a vast change in a very short space of time, meaning business as usual transformed almost overnight. Remote working, the reliance on comms tech and an as-yet unconfirmed drop in business may well be affecting top-line profits, but where leaders should be concentrating their efforts is on their people, who will no doubt be experiencing both physical and mental fallout as the crisis continues.

So what are the essential keys to leading through times of change? We’ve compiled five of the core elements below.


In both of the above examples, the most important factor is clarity. Whilst you’re in boardrooms discussing the ramifications of change, your employees are anxiously awaiting any information that they can process. Even if the news is bad, being honest and open with your staff not only shows them the respect that they deserve for their hard work, it also allows them to feel like you’re working with them, not against them. Even if you don’t know what the outcome will be, being honest and open about this will calm nerves, especially if you assure them that as soon as developments happen, they’ll be the first to know. Edelman research found that, in a survey of over 100,000 employees, 89% rated honesty and openness as the number one factors they look for in a good boss.


Without the confidence to back up your decision-making process, it’s unlikely that employees will have any faith in you. However, don’t let your confidence be misguided; this doesn’t mean making knee jerk decisions based purely on gut feeling. Confidence should be a honed art form, founded in measured research and the advice of those around you. Business consultant Kimberley Penharlow recently told The Muse that confident decisions come from the following process: “Filter decisions based on when they need to be made, what their priority is, and their impact, whether it be on the business, the team, or another important factor.”


As outlined above, no leader should be making decisions in a vacuum. In fact, leadership teams shouldn’t even be doing this. The most important group of people with insight into the inner working of any company are its workers. Therefore, before pulling the trigger on major decisions in times of change, consult with your employees. You may well find that the varied perspectives from the people putting in the work on the front line give you a new outlook. Also, it’s worth noting that in Edelman’s research, the ability to listen was also rated very highly on employees’ lists of key boss attributes. 


An absentee boss is a useless boss. Yes, you may well be swamped with a mammoth to-do list, but just as important as signing off on projects and having leadership meetings is the ability to walk the floor of the office (or, under the current circumstances, taking part in digital team meetings). See the inner processes of your workforce and make the time to understand how they operate. Again, this is a knowledge-seeking exercise as much as it is a chance for your employees to feel your presence. This, however, doesn’t mean that you’re there to offer suggestions or demand changes to workflows – this is a slippery slope into micromanagement. Forbes research states that 85% of what we know, we have learned through listening, so just listen.

Be mindful

Before any decisions are made, before you open your mouth or create tasks for those around you, be mindful. You must appreciate that change is a hard concept to grasp. Chances are, in times like the present, employees are extremely stressed and anxious, and as such it’s just not feasible to expect the same kind of output you may otherwise expect from them. Put yourself in the shoes of those around you, and you’ll start to realise that everyone in your company has a different outlook, different motivations and different requirements. This is both the beauty and curse of the leadership role.