Applying Effective Leadership Styles in Crisis Management

October 23, 2020

Case categories include: Founder’s Insights   Leadership   

By Paul Witkay, Founder & CEO, Alliance of Chief Executives

When crisis strikes, people naturally look toward a leader to provide a sense of stability and create a path forward. In the business world, prepared leaders maintain crisis management plans (CMP) to establish protocols for risk analysis, response plans and internal communication. But in a year when businesses across the globe are dealing with the unpredictability of COVID-19, even the most prepared leaders need to be more flexible and proactive than ever before.

As the founder of the Alliance of CEOs, I have been listening closely to our members since the pandemic first broke out. From this vantage point, I’ve witnessed how each company has dealt with the crisis in their own unique way. Influenced by elements like industry, organizational structure and general operations, CEOs have adapted their existing CMPs to deal with an issue that none of us have experienced before.

While this may seem like a daunting task, three leadership styles can make crisis management more effective—and your organization more resilient in the face of adversity.

1. Strategic Leadership: Assess the Situation

During a crisis, it’s important to take stock of what’s changed and how it impacts your organization’s overall mission. Consider your founding principles and what’s brought you to where you are today. What has success looked like for you in the past? Is that same picture achievable today?

Crises can take many forms, including everything from a drop in product demand to technological malfunctions, or a natural disaster that impacts general operations. To develop solutions, you need to quantify how the event in question is affecting you right now and how it may evolve in the future. Given how far-reaching a crisis like COVID-19 is, for instance, you need to ask a broad range of questions, including:

  • Is this event impacting sales?
  • Are your customers affected?
  • Are your supply chains intact?
  • Will daily operations need to change?

As you discover the answers to these questions, actionable solutions can become clear. From there, you can communicate these ideas to your organization and move together as a unit.

2. Attentive Leadership: Communicate and Be Transparent When Needed

When some people envision strong leadership, they think of bull-headed, take-charge attitudes from figures who claim to have solutions for every possible issue. True leaders don’t think they have all the answers. Instead, they recognize a situation’s complexity and leverage their team to find solutions together.

In a time of crisis management, a leadership style that encourages communication and collaboration with employees is essential. If your company had to make the jump to remote work this year, you probably already know this. My own team had to implement major changes as we transitioned quickly to working from home, but by maintaining an open dialogue, we were able to make a smooth and effective transition virtually overnight.

The unpredictability of COVID-19 and its impact on business makes a culture of open communication an invaluable asset. To implement an attentive leadership style during a crisis, keep these strategies in mind:

  • Inspire Conviction: Leaders can increase motivation by explaining to employees why the company’s services matter, why their efforts are important, and who will benefit from their work—especially during a time of unprecedented challenges.  
  • Encourage Teams to Work Together: During a crisis like COVID-19, many employees feel isolated in both their personal and professional lives. Creating opportunities to communicate and collaborate can decrease that sense of aloneness and enhance productivity.
  • Stay Calm in the Face of the Storm: Uncertainty is a breeding ground for anxiety and distraction. Leaders can set a calm tone to help employees feel confident that the work they are doing is not only the right work to do, but they are also moving the company in the right direction.

By acting as a guiding light and addressing the changing needs of your employees, you can help your team and your business thrive.

3. Customer-Centric Leadership: Build Your Strategy Around Customer Needs

Whether in times of crises or not, the needs of customers should remain the centerpiece of any business. Of course, in a time of immense change, the needs that seemed so certain only a year ago may have shifted substantially. So you need to use every tool available to make sure that you’re still delivering value to your client base.

These two actions can help you deepen your understanding of customers’ needs:

Seek Customer Feedback

Reaching out to clients, whether personally over the phone or through automatic messaging, can give you critical information about how their needs have changed. Surveys can be an important element of this, as they help you gauge how satisfied your customer base is with your current offerings and uncover possible points of improvement.

Examine Client Behavior and Adapt Accordingly

This can take different forms depending on the product or service you offer. For instance, tech companies can explore how clients are currently using their services and adapt to better meet customer requirements, even if that means a significant shift in focus. I know one telecom company that adapted their technology to fit telehealth contexts. If you are a manufacturer and see a shortage in a certain market—the skyrocketing demand for PPE and hand sanitizer instantly comes to mind—you can reconfigure your operation to fill the gap.

Using these strategies, you can gain the insights you need to navigate an evolving landscape.

Your company lives and dies depending on how well it meets customer needs. Never lose sight of what matters to your base.

Integrating New Leadership Styles in Crisis Management Strengthens Your Approach

Although COVID-19 has presented some of the most complicated challenges I’ve seen over the course of my career, staying open to different philosophies has been invaluable throughout this period. By connecting with so many leaders within the Alliance community, I’ve seen the broad spectrum of problems created by the pandemic and the innovative strategies business leaders are using to address them. From these conversations, I’m reminded yet again that great leaders inspire others to do their best work and help them achieve larger goals that benefit a greater good.

While our global crisis will come to an end, we need to take advantage of every available resource until then. This includes learning from one another so that we can be the leaders our employees and our customers deserve.

For more thoughts on applying effective leadership styles in crisis management, contact the Alliance of CEOs today.