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How to Lead Your Team Through a Crisis

6 min read • Apr 22, 2020 • Bjolan Holyoak

Being a leader is tough, even on a good day. Still, in the face of events like the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, leadership becomes a crucible, separating those who deserve their positions of power from those who are little more than decorative ornaments. Contrary to popular belief, nobody is born a great leader. They’re forged over time in the fires of conflict and experience. Yet nearly all good leaders share certain traits and practices that aid them in their roles.

What Makes a Good Leader?

As marvelous as it would be to synthesize the perfect leader with little more than the right combination of chemicals—like a certain star-spangled comic book hero—that’s not how it works. However, there does seem to be a certain recipe of behaviors and characteristics that the best leaders share.


There’s a difference between self-belief and self-confidence when it comes to leadership. To be self-confident means you are assured of your abilities to perform in your role. While it’s a great trait to have, it doesn’t hold the same weight and power as self-belief. To be a self-believer, you have unwavering faith in yourself, your worthiness, and your capacity to lead—it transcends confidence. Faith, by nature, is fascinating and alluring. Those who have it can pass it on to others. This infectious faith and belief in yourself are how you build a following and secure your position as a leader. If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will either.


All great leaders have the ability to read a situation and make a judgment call. It’s not always an easy choice between Option A or Option B. In fact, leaders often face lose-lose scenarios that require a great deal of careful calculation before proceeding down the rocky path to a better long-term outcome. Yet even when asked to make the hard choice, the key to success is actually making it. Far too often, less-qualified leaders throw up their hands and hope things work out, but real leaders make a definitive decision—even if that decision is to hold for a moment and await further information.


Anyone will tell you that communication is the key to not only success as a leader but success in any relationship. It’s crucial for you to be heard, seen, and understood. Every step you take when communicating with your team moves you toward your mutual goals. But quality communication is also a 2-way street. To be an excellent communicator, a leader must also be a great listener. The best leaders know when to shut their mouths and allow others to take the reins. The Center for Creative Leadership recommends you listen 80% of the time and talk for only 20%.


It’s easy to think motivating a team means pushing them to be better. While that works in some cases, high-caliber leaders understand the importance of leading by example and encouraging their team members rather than beating them with performance numbers, deadlines, and you-can-do-better comments. Leading by fear or force is counterproductive. Be and behave like the sort of team member you would want to lead. 


When you’re part of the C-suite, have words like “head” or “director” attached to your position title, or find yourself in a managerial position of any kind, it’s easy to think you’re more important than those with lesser titles. But here’s the thing: you couldn’t be more wrong. All great leaders understand their roles and how they fit with others into a larger whole. Like a general without an army, you are just a solitary person without your team members. Leaders who understand that truth know they must treat their team with respect, learn from their unique perspectives, and accept criticism. As a leader, you are not flawless. Be open to growth opportunities and look for ways to improve your leadership style.

How to Use Those Attributes When Crisis Strikes

Nothing can truly prepare you for a crisis. Whether it comes in the form of war, economic downturn, or a pandemic like COVID-19, your mettle as a leader will be tried and measured. So here are some ways to take those leadership traits and skills and leverage them in the face of disaster. 

Belief in the Self, and Belief in Others

Fear and uncertainty are your greatest adversaries when faced with a crisis. As a leader, people will look to you for guidance. As they do so, comfort and uplift them. Face your emotions and manage them, because if you’re not centered, it’s difficult to help others. Remember: you can do it, and your team members can do it. Encourage them and let them know of your unwavering faith in both your and their ability to overcome the challenges ahead.

Decisive Action and Adaptability

Facing the cold reality of something like coronavirus isn’t a pleasant experience, but it is a necessary one. As things get worse, you need to decide on a course of action and move forward. It’s impossible to know all variables and potential outcomes in a crisis scenario, but fearful inaction will kill you. Take a moment to consider the paths before you, and then proceed. Even if it turns out to be the wrong decision, making a strong choice when the moment comes allows for progress, stability, and the opportunity for adaptation once you have more information. 

Deliberate Communication

When people panic, walls go up, and crucial conversations stop. Don’t let that happen. Be deliberate in your communication. Overcommunicate about the actions you are taking to provide accurate and updated information to your company or team. Knowledge is power, and power is security. If your people are working remotely due to the coronavirus, touch base with each person. Regular check-ins to see how they’re doing are an excellent way to ensure they don’t feel isolated. If you need help, there are plenty of guides online tailored to helping leaders work with remote teams. 

Motivational Guidance

While doing your best to overcommunicate, make sure you’re reassuring those you lead. Continue to be an example to others, and show them you’re in it together. Find ways to turn the unfortunate circumstances into something that strengthens your team. Look for opportunities to call out and recognize people who are doing well. Perhaps even take a moment to invest some time into remote team-building exercises while working from home during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Take every opportunity you can to build team cohesion and boost morale.


Just as before, it’s important to listen to those in other positions. During a crisis, it’s important to get as much information as you can from all spheres under your guidance. Even as you move forward with important decisions, take a moment to let others ask questions and offer suggestions. Every perspective you learn from can give you an advantage and a new way to overcome crisis-born difficulties.

Just Don’t Panic

No matter what happens, you need to keep a clear head and a can-do attitude. The way you approach a challenge can impact the outcome, so don’t lose faith in yourself or your team. Additionally, shift your point of view and realize that no matter how bleak circumstances are, they’re only temporary. Make decisions, pivot, or adjust operations in ways that can help you survive the moment, but don’t sacrifice your future in the process. To put it simply: If you don’t panic, everything will be okay.


Bjolan Holyoak

Bjolan Holyoak is a small business finance writer based in Utah. As a copywriter for Lendio, he fuels the American Dream by giving small business owners the information they crave. He believes that with the right panache, financial information can be as much of a "breath of fresh air" as a hike in the Utah mountains.