There are leaders in all walks of life, be it political (prime minister/president of a country), in sports (captain of a cricket team), corporate (CEO of a company), entertainment (director/producer on a film set), education (department head in a college) or even personal (head of a family). While each one might have their own sets of unique challenges to deal with, one thing is certain, good leaders emerge in times of crisis.

Crisis is a part of life. We experience it in our personal affairs, countries deal with it on a national level and then there are international challenges such as the COVID 19 pandemic. How we deal with crisis determines character and tests the real mantle of a leader. However, we tend to hold leaders to high standards and often forget that they too are human. No one is invincible and a leader can also be vulnerable, having insecurities and fears. But leaders have to overcome their vulnerabilities to continue doing herculean tasks and keep their followers/team motivated, even if they do not get credit of their actions on immediate terms. The words of novelist Robert Louis Stevenson stand true here: “Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others.”

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For me the character of a leader is defined by action, especially in times of crisis. While skills and IQ are important, it is emotional intelligence that truly sets a good leader apart. When faced with uncertainty, collective fear or a pressing crisis, an efficient leader does the following:

Acknowledge fear: When faced by an adverse situation or crisis, you must address it and explain to your team/followers that you understand how uncertain and scary things seem, but that if you work together you can weather the storm. As a leader you must be brutally honest, giving a clear picture of the challenges, and also provide credible hope, how collectively you have all the resources to overcome the situation. Recognise that the team is anxious and emphasise on the values of solidarity, determination, shared purpose, and resilience to keep them motivated.

Delegate roles, share purpose: Real leaders give others jobs/tasks to do, providing followers direction and reminding them why their work matters. You must delegate and give charge so that individual members act in service of the broader community. You must emphasize on the key role that each individual plays in the operation to thwart the crisis. Involving everyone is a boon when things are unfamiliar as you need many points of view to make sure the decision makers aren’t missing something. While doing this, it is important that you also decide what not to do, put a hold certain expenses or tasks that seem unnecessary at the moment. Make sure to publicize your “what not to do” choices so that everyone is on the same page.

Adapt and innovate: To successfully navigate crisis, as a leader you need to quickly get comfortable with the ambiguity and chaos. During a crisis there is no set playbook to follow. So you must improvise, adjust and navigate the turbulence by re-directing the team/followers as the situation changes and develops. Keep in mind that actions drove results previously may no longer be relevant. Be ready to adjust quickly and develop new plans of attack. As a leader it is courageous to accept that mistakes might be made and to have the ability to quickly pivot as you learn along the way. You must be ready to take ownership, even if many factors lie outside your control.

Communicate and match energy: The responsibility of an effective leader during crisis is to keep have your finger on the pulse of your team’s energy and emotions. You must be able to read the mood and model the behaviour you want to see. For this you must use your body language and actions with confidence to instil confidence in others that things are moving in the right direction. Listening to your team is critical as is frequently asking how they are they doing or what they need. Don’t forget to indicate that you are taking time to recharge and rest so that others do the same.

I believe that the best leaders are passionate about identifying and mentoring emerging leaders, they constantly work to improve their emotional intelligence and know the importance of a strong team culture to accomplish a mission. Thus, the function of a leader is to create more leaders, not followers. Moments of crisis reveals a lot about the team and it may help you uncover new leaders or skills in some, which will help envision how roles will change in a post-crisis world. Remember, ultimately leaders are remembered for how they handle crisis.

Leading from the front and taking decisions during challenging times is not easy. Follow these principles to optimise productivity of your team and to make smart decisions during uncertain times.