Examples of Leadership During a Crisis

By Andrew Chastain

We are living through a global crisis that is impacting all communities, institutions and businesses. As organizations are impacted, even the most seasoned executives must adapt. After all, how does one lead through such extreme uncertainty? Allow me to thank you for the work you are doing to lead your organization and support your communities.

The current crisis will shine a spotlight on leadership, highlighting when it works and when it does not. Leadership requires a keen understanding of organizational capabilities and the influence of external factors. As the virus spreads and the economy goes dormant, leaders must mobilize their assets (technology, facilities, people, culture, etc.) to meet the changing needs. Hospital leaders are taking dramatic steps to serve patients and communities. College administrators are shifting classes online and creatively staying connected with students and alums. Executives overseeing major sports leagues, concert series, industry conferences and other public events have made excruciating decisions to cancel their entire schedules. Restaurant and store owners whose businesses are closed are scrambling to keep staff employed if at all possible.

Training and planning for crisis management can provide a template for leading in crisis. Great leaders have invested energies in the past to building credibility, trust, teams and processes to support success in times of crisis. I would like to highlight some decisions that show strong leadership I’ve witnessed during the crisis:

  • Delaying retirement. Some CEOs and high-profile leaders have chosen to delay their retirements to ensure that their organizations have stable and experienced hands on the wheel. California State University chancellor Timothy White and two system presidents have postponed their exits in order to help their institutions ride out the storm.
  • Expanding services. Healthcare executives are in “creative improvisation” mode, according to the head of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness. Most providers are significantly ramping up telehealth offerings in an effort to serve the greatest numbers of patients safely and effectively. Governments and private insurers are finally easing regulations to allow more patients to be treated virtually. Meanwhile, hospitals and health systems across the country are opening drive-through testing sites and setting up surge areas and makeshift facilities to expand their ability to safely and efficiently accommodate patients.
  • Launching new initiatives. More than 40 global companies are racing to develop the first vaccine for COVID-19, dedicating staff, time and funds to find a solution as quickly as possible. Other businesses are getting creative to help out. Manufacturers of all sorts are pitching in to halt the virus. Some alcohol distilleries, for instance, are switching production from beverages to hand sanitizer to help with the shortage. Cosmetics firms are doing the same with their perfume production lines. Vacuum-maker Dyson and several auto manufacturers have pledged to manufacture much needed medical ventilators.
  • Directly aiding workers and businesses impacted: Michael Kirban, CEO of beverage maker Vita Coco, which has benefited tremendously from recent increased sales, is donating large portions of its profits to fighting the virus. Retailers like Target, Walmart and Amazon have announced significant pay increases for workers charged with keeping stores stocked and moving packages. News outlets like the New York Times, Harvard Business Review, and the Chronicle of Higher Education are offering their coronavirus coverage for free. Gannett, the media company, has launched a new website aimed specifically at helping small businesses.

There are examples of great leadership everywhere we turn. I wish you strength and courage as you lead your organization through this period of great uncertainty.

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