Four skills of effective leaders in a crisis

Sonia McDonald leaders

LeadershipHQ founder Sonia McDonald. Source: supplied.

As a small business leader, you are already responsible for handling the situations that arise each day, as well as your regular duties. However, it’s not just everyday situations you will encounter. It’s inevitable you will face disasters and challenges while running and leading a small business, and you must be prepared to handle them.

No matter the nature of the crisis, from a building-wide power failure to a public health scare (like the current coronavirus pandemic), these are the four leadership skills small business leaders must have in order to navigate the situation. 

Adaptability (creativity)

Even the most well-planned events can go wrong, and sometimes they evolve into a crisis. Being able to handle these less-than-perfect situations and adapt your approach is what the best leaders do. You need to have a Plan B, and be able to quickly devise a creative Plan C (or D, or E …) if the situation requires it.

Gather input from your team to get other perspectives and collaborate on a creative solution. In times of crisis, this is what will help you adjust and solve the problem.

Self control

When faced with a crisis, leaders must stay calm and collected. This involves a great deal of self control, as it’s a natural reaction for many people to panic and become frantic. With self control, you can take charge, communicate clearly, and think rationally and logically to get the situation under control. 

Relationship management

Even in a crisis, the best leaders know how to manage their relationships with those around them. Assertive but friendly, they can encourage teamwork, direct people and inspire them.

It takes self control to not lose patience and start ordering people around; relationship management skills go hand-in-hand with self control. Do not let a crisis get the best of you, because it can affect your relationships with your team, clients and customers. 


Communication is critical for any small business leader to excel in, and it’s probably most crucial during a crisis. Timely, concise and clear communication, delivered in a calm manner, helps get important information across fast when dealing with a crisis. It’s much easier to work toward the best outcome with effective communication with team members and clients.

There’s usually no warning (or very little) before a crisis occurs, and they can take a variety of forms. A leader must be able to communicate effectively, control themselves, be creative and adaptable, and keep relationship management in mind during any situation, but especially in a crisis.

So, when faced when a crisis – how do you lead? My mantra during this time is: “Crisis can lead to growth and opportunity, stuff-ups can lead to resilience and lessons, and purpose and vision can withhold any challenges”.

Have you had to lead your team and business during a crisis? You no doubt used these skills and ways to lead, even if you weren’t consciously aware of it.

Remember we are all in this together and we will come out stronger, braver and better. 

NOW READ: Being human: Three ways to be a better leader during in a crisis, and protect your bottom line while you’re at it

NOW READ: “Do or die”: Meet the events business that’s made a Boozi pivot in order to survive COVID-19


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