Coaching Techniques

5 Ways to Show Up As A Leader In Times of Crisis

Leading through a crisis requires vision and courage. Consider these simple strategies for navigating the unknown with purpose, compassion, and resilience.

The world changed, seemingly overnight, and now we’re wading through the fallout. Grappling with so much uncertainty and too many unknowns.

Maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed, having trouble sleeping, or burning out. Perhaps you’re doing your best to avoid overdosing on the news; focusing instead on the day to day, seeking comfort in a hundred small ways. 

There’s no right or wrong way to feel in a crisis. Reactions are vastly different -- a single scroll through your social media feeds proves the point.

We can all do our best to prepare for a snowstorm, heavy rains, wildfire, and drought. But no one could have prepared for the confluence of events that continue to reverberate throughout our lives over the last few years. The fact that everyone is sharing the same collective experience means we’re in a remarkable time of transition, together. Our communal grit and resilience is being tested far beyond usual levels. 

As we feel our way through this historic period, it can be hard to know just what’s required of us as leaders and coaches. How does one lead while also dealing with the unprecedented? How do you take care of yourself so that you have something left to give your clients, employees, and loved ones?

Here’s a few ideas to consider as you develop your own unique approach to leading in times of crisis.

Acknowledge it

As leaders, we feel the pressure when a major disruption arises, and experience the full weight of expectations. We’re meant to be a solid backbone for those around us to lean on for support. 

No one has lived through this before.

The first step is simply to recognize that we’re in a challenging new reality, and be gentle on yourself (and others). When you acknowledge the fact that nobody has the answers, it relieves some of the stress that comes from needing to know how to navigate this terrain.

No one does, so why should you?

So where do you start when your own foundation may be rumbling too?

Seek to understand what your people are going through, and allow them the grace to deal with their emotions at their own pace. We each come to a moment of crisis with different amounts of resilience, grit, compassion, and empathy. We also arrived on the scene with massive disparities in privilege, health, and material advantages.

Be kind. Know that everyone is affected by what’s happening in unique ways. Each person has their own methods for coping, and may require something different from you. As we observe people implementing new forms of mutual aid and care over the past few years, it’s been inspiring to see all the ways we are discovering how to create safety and support for one another. 

Communicate with transparency

As a leader or a coach, you may be expected to say the “right” thing. You may be called upon to be a beacon of hope. These expectations can come from clients, employees, and others in your community. And if you look closely, you might notice that they are also coming from within yourself.

Clear communication is paramount during times of turmoil and stress. 

It’s right to show up authentically, now and always. It is never wrong to say, “Hey, this situation is affecting me emotionally.” 

Leadership during a crisis doesn’t mean you have to spout empty words of strength that you don’t feel. It means you can be as honest as humanly possible, while still sharing hope and resilience in your words and actions. It might also mean waiting until you have a clear message to offer others. 

Instead of believing you need to jump in right away, or staying completely silent for fear of saying the wrong thing, realize that others may want to hear from you, may need to know that they’re not alone in their feelings and thoughts. 

Ditch the straightjacket of perfection, and show up as you are. Do life with your people, not at them.

And remember: you will probably stumble along the way. That’s alright - all courageous leaders do. 

Hold space for others 

When the world is rumbling, we must reach out. Remind your friends, loved ones, employees, and clients that you're here for them. This is not so you can be heralded a hero - it’s simply what good leaders do. 

Leaders actively tend their community.

Does this mean you have to be available for your employees, clients, and friends 24/7? No. It’s important to balance holding space for others with making space for yourself. 

What it does mean is that you are called upon in times of crisis to extend yourself. It’s in these critical moments that you most need to remind others that you welcome their thoughts and are available to listen. 

Be sure they know you genuinely want to hear from them.

Holding space for others to come to you is so important because, during particularly difficult times, people may be feeling alone and isolated. Many people tend to believe that everyone’s already too busy dealing with their own individual problems. Too often, this causes them to isolate further rather than reaching out when they need support.

Be vocal that you truly want to hear from your team, your clients, your co-workers. Listen deeply and without judgment when others do seek you out. Be a safe space and a soft landing.

Cultivate resiliency and openness

We develop resilience by experiencing and surviving difficult situations. In many ways, it’s similar to building a muscle. This is the time to flex your skills around openness and endurance, holding everything loosely as you move forward.

“Managing for resilience requires more than just grafting new ideas or tools onto today’s approaches. It requires a fundamentally different mental model of business — one that embraces complexity, uncertainty, interdependence, systems thinking, and a multi-timescale perspective.” - A Guide to Building a More Resilient Business, Harvard Business Review 

What does this look like in practice?

It means staying open to fresh ways of approaching work and life. Welcome ideas from every credible source. 

While it is good to have a solid, step-by-step plan, it just may not be possible in every situation. We need to find new ways to provide those around us with a sense of unified purpose and direction. 

Strategic business plans are flying out the window, in favor of resiliency planning. Learn what that entails and how to implement it at the scale that’s appropriate to your situation. If you do, you’re more likely to become an in-demand leader over the decade to come.

If you happen to be a life or career coach who's wondering if now really is the right time to work on building your coaching business, check out this article as well: Can You Still Coach Even In Difficult Times?

Do what you say you’ll do 

When a storm is raging all around, consistency on your part is key. It’s the basis of all trust and loyalty. 

  • When you say you are available and willing to listen, or when you tell your team you welcome their thoughts, do exactly that.
  • If you say you’ll do something by a certain date or time, do exactly that

If you can’t follow through on a commitment for some reason, all you have to do is say so. Communicate clearly so people know what to expect from you.

This is not just compassionate, it’s the foundation of responsible leadership.

As a good manager or coach, it’s our job to show up and honor the commitments we make to others - even (and especially) during a crisis.

We don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to have all the answers. We don’t have to have a solution. But we DO need to follow through on our word. 

Crisis will test our mettle. It also has the capacity to forge us as leaders

The best leaders assume positions of influence with a deep sense of reverence and responsibility. The fact that you’re reading this article, exploring ways to have greater impact as a leader in this time, means you’re one of the good ones.

Want to take your leadership skills to the next level? 

People enroll in Lumia's life coach training program for a variety of reasons. Many come with the clear intention to build a career in coaching. But not all plan to “go pro.” Maybe you'd like to apply these skills to roles you are already playing - as an advisor, human resource specialist, therapist, personal trainer, manager, business owner, or career mentor. Or perhaps coach training is a pathway to deeper personal development - in essence, education for becoming a “better human”. Everything we learn here ultimately helps us to show up as better friends, parents, coworkers, and community members.

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