How to Successfully Lead Through a Crisis

4 ways to succeed in times of crisis

How to Successfully Lead Through a Crisis

Anyone can lead in times of peace and when the operations of the organization are running efficiently. It’s easier to come to work and lead during times of peace. It’s a completely different story during times of crisis. In those turbulent times a leader has to step up and lead the team through the undesirable situation. It’s not always fun or glamorous but it’s one of the requirements of leadership. The true test of leadership is the ability to successfully lead through times of crisis.

I’m a supervisor on a campus housing children between the ages of 1 day to 18 years old who are in protective services. These children have been removed from their families for their own safety and most of the time the children have been severely traumatized.

Some of the children can become physically and verbally aggressive with staff and/or other children. At times their behaviors and actions can create high risk situations that could lead to themselves or others being harmed. As a supervisor I’m called into these challenging and at times harmful situations to help deescalate the child and to make sure everyone remains safe. In this post I want to share with you what I’ve learned about successfully leading through a crisis.


When a crisis happens you have to be aware of the situation at hand. Most of the time a leader walks into the middle or heat of a crisis, so you have to scan your surroundings and gather all of the facts. You have to be focused and hyper vigilant. At this time you are you are able to get a sense of your staff member’s emotional state, understand the root of the problem or threat, and evaluate the desirable outcomes. Being aware allows you to see how you need to take the lead and the decisions you might want to make.

Lending Support

The people you lead need to be able to count on you for support and help. This is especially true during times of major crisis. You should match your supportiveness to the level of crisis. The three types of crisis include small, medium, and large. Let’s see how a leader can support in each type of crisis.

  • Small crisis- Leaders should be present but not necessary step in to help during a small crisis. You are there to observe and provide feedback if absolutely needed.
  • Medium crisis- This is when you would work closely with or alongside the team member(s). You should ask how you can help, provide constructive feedback, and offer suggestions on how to better work through the crisis.
  • Large crisis- This is when the crisis is severe enough for you to completely step in and relive (having them now support you) the person of their main role to take the situation over. You would lead and the other staff members would follow beside you.

Learn what each type of crisis would look like in your organization and match our supportiveness to the crisis.

Problem solving

Leaders need to creatively problem solve in times of crisis. You have to find out the cause of the crisis (problem or issue) then come up with the best way to solve it. A lot of the time you can solve the problem or issue at hand by being present to observe the situation, taking time to gather all of the facts, and asking those directly involved for their advice. Great leaders come up with the best solutions by using all methods needed in the situation.


Leaders need to be able to effectively communicate in times of crisis. In a crisis your people’s ears are open wide for your direction, guidance, and advice. You will want to make sure you are clear, direct, and assertive when communicating. A leader can achieve this by speaking in shorter sentences and choosing their words carefully. This can help your people understand what you said and your directives for them.

You should also focus on your breathing during times of crisis. Start taking a couple of deep breaths before you communicate. This can help your blood flow through your entire body which clears your mind to make better decisions. Do these things to help you communicate more effectively during times of crisis.

Questions: which of these ways has helped you during times of crisis? What would you add to the list?

Subscribe to Dan Black on Leadership to receive fresh leadership content delivered to you inbox. PLUS two free quote books. All you need to do is to enter your email in the box below then push “Subscribe”:

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

8 thoughts on “How to Successfully Lead Through a Crisis

  1. how a leader communicates can actually affect the outcome of a crisis, Dan. If you speak with empathy, understanding and guidance, you can inspire others to embrace and get through the crisis. Otherwise, a leader creates more panic and conflict in a situation. Being able to be calm (and speak calmly) under fire is the mark of a great leader.

  2. What’s helped me the most during these times is mental repetitions prior to the situation/event, as well as pre-planning a specific action. By doing those two things it takes a lot of indecision out of the equation which helps me remain calm.

  3. I find that I get frazzled if I’m neglecting my time with God. If I’m not centered on Him then any technique I use isn’t very effective. A quick prayer and deep breathes help me.

    God bless your work. Those kids need love. Thank you for caring for them.

    • Good point! Being and staying connecting to God is crucial. He will give us the words to say and the things to do, even in the most difficult situations.

      Thank you:) I once read a quote that went something like this: “sometimes the kids who want the most love, ask for it in the most unloving ways.” I always keep that in mind when the youth are acting in unsafe ways. They just want to feel loved, safe, and valued.

  4. I have learned to understand when there is a situation that could be potentially dangerous you must know the normal ways of an environment.