What key traits enable executives to effectively lead during a crisis?

A crisis at work can cause a significant elevation in stress and uncertainty, impacting employees. During these stressful times, team members look to executive management for direction. They need someone at the helm who will take charge and lead them as they navigate these challenges. Keep reading to find out what traits are helpful to executives in guiding their teams through a crisis.

Jonathan Hill

Jonathan Hill

Jonathan Hill, CEO and chairman of The Energists, an executive search and recruiting firm.

Three of the most important traits for effective leadership during a crisis:


You often need to make quick decisions during a crisis to adjust your course and limit the disruption to your business as much as possible. Successful crisis leaders have the confidence and knowledge to assess the situation and act without wasting time on debate or indecision.

Effective Communication Under Pressure

Stressful situations can easily lead to communication breakdowns. When things are happening quickly, leadership sometimes forgets to keep their team in the loop. Others get flustered or angry when they’re under stress, impairing their ability to express themselves clearly and effectively. A strong crisis leader can maintain their focus and calm in any situation, which comes across in how they interact with their team. Team members take their behavioral cues from leadership. If the manager is freaking out, odds are the staff will be, too, and that makes it a lot harder to respond to the situation.


In the early stages of a crisis, you’re often acting on incomplete information. As you get further along, you’ll have more data to analyze and can make a more informed decision about how to move forward. Being flexible keeps you from sticking with the wrong course and allows you to adjust and adapt as the crisis unfolds.

Ability to stay calm and collected

Perhaps the most important trait a leader can possess during a crisis is the ability to stay calm and collected. Taking reactionary measures can be particularly dangerous for a company when reeling from a crisis. However, there is also a fine line to walk, as leaders can’t afford to freeze and do nothing. Good leaders find that gap in the middle of these two options. They take smart, decisive action after having reflected on it. They don’t overreact, and they don’t freeze. They remain cool and collected, intelligently reflecting on decision points before acting.

A good leader also looks for opportunities in a crisis. Oftentimes, when a crisis has you on the ropes, it presents the opportunity for a good counterpunch. It can mean pivoting into adjacent spaces, retooling your workforce, or even slashing deadweight. This opportunity can come in many shapes and sizes. We’ve seen this [change] recently with several companies switching the course of their operations to take advantage of the global pandemic. Technologies that previously were only used for consumer applications have been altered to take advantage of mass-scale remote work situations. There are countless examples of executives who weren’t panicked by the initial Covid hit and instead smartly pivoted their companies into success by looking for opportunity.

John Ross

John Ross

John Ross, CEO of Test Prep Insight, an online education company.

Jason Mudd

Jason Mudd

Jason Mudd is a CEO and Managing Partner, a trusted adviser, and dynamic strategist for some of America’s most admired brands. Find him at Axiapr.com

Leading a team through a crisis

Every team is going through some level of crisis or disruption right now, considering we’re in month 12 of a global pandemic.

If you have the honor to lead, you must improve your emotional intelligence and increase your transparency. This is especially true during a crisis. A crisis situation is overwhelmingly stressful, and that’s why we plan and practice for these moments, so we don’t lose our cool, snap at someone, or say something inappropriate or insensitive.

Never lose focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, and representation. Your department, your leadership, your board, your conference room, your Zoom strategy sessions should include people who do not look like, think like, or act like you. Smart leaders surround themselves with colleagues from diverse experiences and backgrounds. Too often, something sounds smart in a board room or conference room but absolutely misses the mark in the eyes of the outside world. Just ask Burger King. Its UK marketing [department] is under fire for tweeting, “Women belong in the kitchen on International Women’s Day.” You must open your environment and perception to the perceptions of others. Allow for diversity, equity, inclusion, and representation, and be sure to solicit input from outside advisors, including outside PR counselors.

During a crisis, we have to remember “fear is a choice.” So why not chose courage?

Being able to acknowledge your limitations

One of the best traits for any leader [to exemplify] is being able to acknowledge your limitations and hire people whose strengths complement those areas. One of the earliest lessons I was taught in my career is that it’s impossible to know everything. Your aim should be to fill a leadership team with specialists that are better than you rather than inferiors who report to you. It’s the only way to grow a business.

My job is very much about making decisions based on the insight that industry-leading experts give me [regarding how to] move our organization forward or, in the case of the last twelve months, navigate through dangerous waters. Being able to acknowledge the gaps in your own knowledge and having the courage to appoint people who have those areas as a strength is an essential trait for any business leader.

When I look around our boardroom, I’m often in awe of the caliber of individuals I have working alongside me. I think accepting that you aren’t a subject matter expert but someone who is able to make strategic decisions based on evidence is a great way of leading in a crisis.

James Lloyd-Townshend

James Lloyd-Townshend

James Lloyd-Townshend is Chairman and CEO of cloud talent solutions firm Tenth Revolution Group.

Martin Seeley

Martin Seeley

Martin Seeley, Chief Executive Officer at MattressNextDay.

Developing Communication and Competence

During a crisis, employees look up to leaders who can lead [them] through it. They depend on their leaders to keep profits up and safeguard the welfare of employees and the company. As a CEO and a leader, it is our responsibility to strengthen ourselves by developing these valuable leadership traits.


An effective leader knows their job and does it well. In a crisis, an effective leader listens to expert opinions and is able to keep calm. Employees look for their leader’s guidance and often mirror their actions, which is why it is important for leaders to be competent and do their job well.


In a crisis, it is important to keep an open and accessible line of communication available. This [channel] not only keeps the business going but also ensures that nobody in the team is left behind. Effective communication is a must to keep information up to date and reliable.


During a crisis, it is important for companies to be adaptable, and a quick-thinking leader is needed for flexibility. An organization that is able to keep up with constant change is an organization that is going to successfully get through a crisis.

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