How to Lead During a Crisis

Our CEO Paul Cummings shares his experience of leading during the Covid-19 crisis.

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How to Lead During a Crisis.


To support leadership well-being, Kinharvie was recently invited to submit a tender to facilitate small group sessions where leaders reflect on two years of leading during the COVID-19 crisis. In addition to this, we were also asked to lead a workshop named, “How to Lead During a Crisis.”


When I received confirmation that our bid was successful, I immediately jumped to action as I asked myself the question “okay, how do you lead in a crisis?”  Before I knew what was happening, I was Googling this phrase to discover what the ever-wise experts had to say on the matter. It was during this pursuit I had a sudden awakening – what was I doing?


There is a very embarrassing answer to this question – I was doing the very thing I believe I ought not to as a leader – to look outside of myself for THE ANSWER, the one that is right, has legitimacy, is respected, and revered and, as such, will be the only available and valuable content that makes my workshop worthwhile.


In this one act, I did the very thing I would coach any leader not to – “don’t lose yourself and especially not in a crisis.”  In my anxiety to jump to action and in a fleeting moment of self-distrust that I was unaware of at the time, I lost confidence in my own experience and wisdom and instead, turned in blind faith to the higher power of Google.


I have successfully led Kinharvie through the last 18 months. This has been an extremely challenging time for the charity as we reinvented ourselves to be able to deliver quality services online. It fascinates me I failed to perceive this leadership experience as having something to contribute by way of an answer to the question posed – how to lead during a crisis. So instead of losing myself and dismissing my leadership capability, let me share with you what mattered to me as a leader, leading during a crisis:

Trust the vision and mission – as the first lockdown continued, the sense of being a rabbit in the headlights grew with the realisation that in doing nothing, Kinharvie would be without a future. In those moments of highest uncertainty about how to respond, I found genuine inspiration and clarity when keeping Kinharvie’s vision and mission to the forefront. Both proved to be a useful compass in leading a way through the storm.


Vulnerably accept what is – the end of face-to-face encounters killed our work overnight and our income plummeted. Initial hopes were for a short-term interruption, but it was only in finding the vulnerability and courage to truly accept the enormity of the dangers being faced, that we found our creativity and agility.


Avoid wasteful worry – projecting into a negative future creates anxiety and needless worry, and changes nothing. Avoiding false hope, I aimed to keep an optimistic focus on workable solutions and opportunities.


Convene the team – Although we could not meet face-to-face, I saw it essential to maintain relationships through regular meetings, crucial for solidarity and building resilience. I have immense pride for the way the team supported me and each other and for the creativity and innovation that allows us to now deliver such high-quality services online.


Nail your key messaging – amongst all the noise and chaos of a crisis, I saw the importance of leading others through clear and unambiguous messaging. Simplicity is one of Kinharvie’s values, so I asked myself ‘what 2 messages do I need to convey?’ Once I was clear, I named these and did so repeatedly. When I heard the team repeat them back unsolicited, I knew the message had landed.


Manage emerging and previous priorities – whilst the crisis necessitated new primary concerns, it was important to build capacity by freeing staff of some of the previously stated priorities. Staff need permission to temporarily shelve projects/tasks, or they risk becoming overwhelmed with work and guilt, unable to confidently tackle emerging urgencies.


Finally and most of all, TRUST yourself – if you only took one thing from this blog, take this. To trust yourself in a crisis (or at any time) is to believe there are answers to the challenges and questions you face as a leader, inside yourself. The challenge is to not abandon yourself in that moment when the crisis causes you to wobble, evoking uncertainty and insecurity. Instead of searching outside of yourself for certainty, lean inwards towards the uncertainty and trust your inner resources. You are sufficient - trust you have all you need to lead your own path.

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