Three tips on leading in times of crisis


*This text is based on a German article first published at*

Times of crisis call for special leadership – both in society and at companies. The need for leadership also differs, depending on whether we are facing a global crisis such as the current pandemic or a crisis limited to one company. In the former case, people have even more fears and face even more uncertainty. Based on my experience, there are three aspects of good leadership that become most important during a crisis.

  1. Take other people’s ideas and suggestions into consideration

Traditional leadership is often conveyed via harsh announcements, and traditional leaders take on an aura of virtual infallibility, refusing to leave room for critical thinking on the part of others. But you can also be a leader by first listening to experts, asking questions, and then making decisions. Taking other people’s opinions into consideration means getting a more comprehensive picture of a given situation – which is crucial during times of crisis, when situations are typically complex and can change quickly.

  1. Communicate decisions transparently

Especially if people are personally impacted by a decision, they are more likely to agree to it if they understand why their leaders have chosen one option instead of another. I believe that everyone, whether in their role as citizen or employee, is capable of understanding complex situations if they are explained well. It also helps if you don’t gloss over poor results or uncertain forecasts, but instead provide as much of the data you based your decision on as possible.

  1. Be honest about your decision-making process – and why you sometimes can’t make a final decision

Especially in times of crisis, many decisions have to be made without knowing exactly how a situation will develop – and many decisions may have to be adjusted later on. This can potentially undermine leadership – unless you clearly communicate why you have to base your decisions on projections that are more uncertain than usual.

And don’t hesitate to adjust decisions, or to postpone them if you don’t have enough information yet. It may be tempting to make quick decisions – especially since some quick decisions have been praised by the media lately. But if you look, for example, at the countries that seem to be managing the current Covid-19 crisis well, many are being led by quieter, more thoughtful politicians. Also, many people are now seeing in their personal lives how hard it is to make decisions without knowing what will happen in the next few months. So they can relate to complex decision-making processes, as long as they are clearly explained.


I also talk about leadership during uncertain times in the corona helpdesk podcast, you can find episode 1 here and episode 2 here


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