6 ways you can lead ‘better’ in a crisis


I recently completed an assignment for my Post-grad certificate and it taught me so much that I just had to share what I learned with you. 

The question was “How might ideas and theories of social psychology help create ‘better’ leaders?”

My take on the question is preceded by the notion, that the effectiveness of a leader shouldn’t be measured by their ability to lead in the good times, but rather, during the tough times. Martin Luther King, Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela are three figures that spring to mind as beacons shining light on what leaders should aspire to be like during difficult times.

We are currently going through a difficult time. I mean, a lot of us are building resilience towards our current situation, but without a good leader, it’s easy to lose your way. 

Here are 6 ways you can lead ‘better’ in a crisis:

1. Recognise a VUCA environment:

VUCA stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. Globalisation and the intricacies of each industry create a certain level of VUCA environment and a lot also depends on how each individual interprets the world around us. Without question, our current Covid situation and heightened every component of VUCA. Recognise and empathise with your team on how the VUCA environment is affecting them personally and identify which areas you have the capacity to influence the most. It will take time for people to identify that the environment has started to settle, so make sure you ‘rewind and repeat’ the empathy and the prevailing support you provide them. 

2. Learn about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:


People respond with an increasing level of urgency and reactivity when the VUCA environment is one that may impact their “Physiological needs”. This is why we saw people hoarding toilet paper – they’re just protecting themselves. The needs of your team will follow this order as well. Once they recognise their health is as safe as possible, they then need security and then a sense of belonging. 

3. Uncertainty-Identity Theory

This theory of social psychology describes the way one identifies their sense of self in association with the groups around that they have the most affinity towards. If people have a leader that makes them feel safe, supported, and accepted followed by providing clarity, purpose, and direction, they will tend to identify themselves as being part of that leader’s group. People then tend to mimic other members of the group as that is interpreted as the accepted way of behaving – this is clearly seen in people copying others behaviour crowding beaches, going and stocking up on essentials, and wearing masks when they are isolating inside their own car. 

4. Balance what’s happening externally with what happens internally

It’s easy for business leaders to mimic other leaders (as per uncertainty-identity theory), but it’s kind of like copying someone’s exam answer – they can be wrong as well. So pretty soon we see the ‘blind leading the blind’ in business. It’s important, as ‘better’ leaders, to identify with what your team is seeing externally, and address that with a clear direction internally coupled with valid justification. Easily followable processes – such as social distancing – and a monitoring system to be able to enforce the process as we go along. Standing proud and sprooking your stance externally so you can not only lead internally but also intervene and allow others to follow your lead as well. 

6 ways you can lead ‘better’ in a crisis

5. Adopt an ‘autocratic’ leadership style

This is typically the least favourable of Lewin’s leadership styles in business leadership across the board. However, in a VUCA environment and to provide a sense of belonging and be looked at as a leader, it seems to be in favour. Employing a direct, authoritative tone and pragmatic attitude.  

You can utilise lessons 1-4, but it seems the secret ingredient is the style and the approach. This approach comes naturally for some (myself included – has a lot to do with my upbringing), and less so for others, but at the very least, you need to be direct during a crisis.

6. Explain your vision

Your team doesn’t know what’s in your head. They want to be led by you. Help them see what you can see as a visionary. Where will we end up? What might it look like? What are we preparing for? The future can’t be promised, it’s arrival can… What are we hoping for? Your team is relying on you to impart your dream so that the treadmill leads somewhere – so that after all this is done and we can go back to ‘normal’, that it will all be worthwhile. 

So, these are 6 ways you can lead ‘better’ in a crisis. It is imperative that you understand the crisis’ impact on your team first and provide empathy; followed by addressing the first 3 tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; concurrently assessing the external environment and formulate a plan for how you will respond internally; provide a very clear and simple process that you can uphold; provide a sense of clarity, purpose, and direction and create a sense of group belonging; be direct; articulate what things might look like on the other side.