How to Lead in Crisis?


If you’re a leader, you might be wondering what is the best way to prepare for any crises that might come your way (let’s admit it, the world is unpredictable). In this blog, we will explore key strategies for crisis leadership using established frameworks.

These strategies will help you navigate 3 crucial pillars of a crisis: communication, behaviours & strategic planning, and team dynamics (such as conflict management or going through a grief journey, acknowledging their sense of loss).


In times of crisis, the importance of clear and effective communication cannot be overstated. The CLEAR model provides a structured approach to communication, ensuring that leaders convey information in a way that builds trust, reduces uncertainty, and fosters a sense of stability among team members.

Contracting phase

In the contracting phase, leaders establish a foundation by presenting the facts of the crisis and identifying patterns of behaviour. This involves outlining the key details of the situation, such as the nature of the crisis, its impact, and any observable trends.

A leader begins a virtual team meeting during a crisis by presenting the essential facts related to the current challenges, emphasising the objective realities that the team needs to address. This might include data on the crisis’s impact, the timeline of events, and any recurring patterns observed.

Active listening

Effective communication is a two-way street. Leaders must actively listen to the concerns, questions, and feedback from their team members. They should create channels for open dialogue, whether through virtual town hall meetings, feedback surveys, or regular one-on-one check-ins.

In a virtual town hall meeting, a leader actively listens to concerns raised by team members. They then address these concerns directly, acknowledging the uncertainties and providing honest responses, creating an atmosphere of openness.


The exploration phase delves deeper into team members’ feelings and assumptions about the crisis. Leaders encourage open communication, allowing team members to express their emotions and share any assumptions they may have.

Following the presentation of facts, a leader initiates a discussion to explore team members’ feelings and assumptions. This could involve asking open-ended questions like, “How does what is happening make you feel?” or “What assumptions do you have about how it will impact our work?”. 

Action phase

In the action phase, leaders formulate a plan based on the feelings, assumptions, and observed behaviours of the team. This involves addressing concerns, challenging unfounded assumptions, and outlining clear steps forward. The action plan aims to provide a sense of direction and purpose during the crisis.

Based on the insights gained during the exploration phase, a leader outlines specific actions to address team concerns and challenges assumptions. This might include implementing additional support mechanisms, clarifying misconceptions, or adjusting project timelines. The actions are designed to align with the team’s emotional needs and concerns.

Review phase

The review phase is essential for continuous improvement. After messages are delivered, leaders should assess their effectiveness. This involves seeking feedback on communication strategies, evaluating whether the intended message was received as intended, and making adjustments as necessary.

After a series of crisis-related communications, a leader gathers feedback from team members through a survey or open forum. They review the effectiveness of the communication strategy, making adjustments based on the feedback received to enhance future communications.

In the end, clear communication becomes the linchpin that holds the team together, fostering resilience and unity during challenging times.


In the ever-changing landscape of a crisis, the ability to adapt quickly becomes a cornerstone of effective leadership. The Agile Leadership Framework draws inspiration from agile methodologies in project management and software development. 

Iterative planning

Rather than relying on rigid, long-term plans, leaders adopting the Agile Framework break down their strategies into smaller, more manageable iterations. This iterative planning allows for adjustments based on emerging challenges and new information. It’s an acknowledgement that the initial plan may need to evolve as the crisis unfolds.

In response to the sudden market changes during a crisis, an Agile leader initiates a rapid, iterative planning session with the team. Instead of crafting a detailed, long-term strategy, the leader encourages the team to focus on short-term goals and regularly reassess priorities. This approach allows the team to adapt quickly to evolving circumstances.

Continuous reassessment

Agile leaders prioritize continuous reassessment of both internal and external factors affecting their organization. This involves regularly revisiting the organization’s goals, market conditions, and the well-being of team members. By staying attuned to changes in the environment, leaders can make informed decisions that align with the current reality.

An Agile leader sets up regular, brief check-ins with the team to reassess project priorities and adapt strategies based on emerging information. During these check-ins, the team discusses any changes in the external environment and collaboratively adjusts their goals and timelines to stay aligned with the evolving situation.


The Agile Leadership Framework encourages leaders to embrace flexibility in decision-making. This means being open to changing course if the situation demands it. It involves empowering teams to make decisions at their level, fostering a culture of adaptability and quick response throughout the organization.

Faced with unforeseen challenges during a crisis, an Agile leader empowers the team to make decisions at their level. Instead of relying solely on top-down directives, the leader encourages team members to use their expertise and judgment to solve problems and make decisions quickly, fostering a culture of agility and autonomy.

Cross-functional collaboration

Agile principles emphasize the importance of cross-functional collaboration. During a crisis, this translates to breaking down silos within the organization, promoting open communication between departments, and encouraging collective problem-solving. A collaborative approach ensures that the organization can respond cohesively to challenges, drawing on the diverse skills and perspectives of its members.

Recognizing the need for diverse perspectives, an Agile leader forms cross-functional teams to address specific challenges posed by the crisis. These teams consist of individuals from different departments, each bringing unique skills and insights to the table. This collaborative approach enables a holistic response to complex issues.

Feedback loops

Agile leaders implement feedback loops to continuously learn and improve. This involves regularly seeking feedback from team members, stakeholders, and customers. By incorporating feedback into decision-making processes, leaders can make real-time adjustments, ensuring that their strategies remain aligned with the evolving needs of the organization and its stakeholders.

An Agile leader establishes regular feedback loops with customers, internal teams, and stakeholders. By seeking feedback continuously, the leader can adapt strategies based on real-time insights. This iterative process ensures that the organization remains responsive to changing needs and can adjust its approach swiftly.


In times of crisis, building and maintaining a cohesive team is crucial for weathering challenges and fostering resilience. Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development provides a valuable framework for understanding and managing the dynamics of teams as they evolve through different stages during a crisis.


During the forming stage, teams are coming together and individuals are getting acquainted with one another. Leaders play a pivotal role in facilitating introductions, setting initial expectations, and defining roles. In a crisis, this stage may be expedited, and leaders need to establish a sense of purpose and direction swiftly.

A new project team is formed to address a crisis. During the forming stage, team members are polite, positive, and eager to get started. The leader introduces the team, outlines the project’s goals, and sets initial expectations. Team members may be reserved as they are just getting to know one another.


Storming is characterized by the emergence of conflicts and differences within the team. This phase can be intensified during a crisis as stress levels rise. It is important to address conflicts promptly, encourage open communication, and establish norms for collaboration.

As the team delves into the details of the crisis response plan, differing opinions emerge on the best approach. Conflict arises as team members express their individual viewpoints. The storming phase is marked by debates, challenges to authority, and the surfacing of underlying tensions. The leader actively manages conflicts and guides the team towards resolution.


As the team resolves conflicts, they move into the norming stage where cohesion and collaboration begin to take root. Leaders can promote norming by reinforcing positive behaviours, encouraging teamwork, and emphasizing shared goals.

Through facilitated discussions and team-building activities, the group starts to establish norms and expectations for collaboration. Roles and responsibilities become clearer, and the team begins to find common ground. The leader emphasizes the importance of open communication and encourages mutual respect.


The performing stage represents the optimal level of team functionality. Team members are aligned, communication is smooth, and the group is capable of high-level performance.

With conflicts resolved and norms established, the team enters the performing stage. Team members collaborate seamlessly, leveraging each other’s strengths to address the crisis. They work cohesively toward common goals, demonstrate high levels of trust, and are able to adapt to challenges efficiently. The leader steps back, allowing the team to take ownership of their work.

Adjourning or mourning

While not explicitly part of Tuckman’s original model, the adjourning or mourning stage acknowledges that teams may experience a sense of loss, especially after overcoming a crisis. Recognizing the efforts and achievements of the team during the crisis, celebrating successes, and providing closure are essential for team morale and future resilience.

Overall Leadership strategies to remember: 

  • Encourage open and transparent communication to address concerns, foster understanding, and promote collaboration.
  • Clearly define roles, expectations, and goals to provide a sense of direction and purpose during turbulent times.
  • Address conflicts promptly and constructively.
  • Acknowledge and celebrate both individual and team achievements.
  • Foster a collaborative environment by providing opportunities for team members to work together, share ideas, and contribute to decision-making processes.
  • Recognize the stress that team members may be under during a crisis. Offer support, whether it’s through additional resources, mental health initiatives, or simply checking in on individual well-being.

Have you used any of these models before? If so, we’d love to know how they helped you.

Would you like tailored help to understand how these models could apply to your specific situation? Book a free consultation with us here.