Leadership during a crisis: Stronger Together

By Kerry Jarred, Managing Director, Ignium

Kerry Jarred, Managing Director, Ignium, discusses the steps leaders can take to see teams through these unprecedented times. 

As COVID-19 continues to spread around the world businesses, both small and large, continue to break open their crisis management plans. Many will have been caught on the back foot with this pandemic but what you need to remember is that a predefined response won’t have all the answers in creating calm during a sea of global panic. Instead, you need to look at what actions will help you and your workforce to look ahead and reduce the panic. Here, we explore eight such behaviours and accompanying mindsets that can help leaders navigate this current challenge:

Communicate honestly

Everyone knows that we are going through a global pandemic. We all know that many sectors are going to be hit, extremely hard. There’s no escaping the fact that there will be a major slowdown in the global economy as a result of the coronavirus.  

Treat your people like the adults they are, and be honest about the situation your business is in. This transparency will not only foster greater trust, loyalty and understanding, but will also create opportunities for others to contribute ideas on how to tackle the problems you face and that you may not have considered.  

Frequent, open communications will help to keep people in the loop as well as managing expectations and being completely clear on your priorities will help to steady the ship.  

Embrace teamwork

During times of crisis, uncertainty and ambiguity are rife.  Leaders face problems that are unfamiliar, constantly changing and poorly understood. A small group of top executives cannot collect enough information or make decisions quickly enough to respond effectively.  Instead you should empower others (within clearly defined parameters) to discover and implement solutions, based on a common, agreed purpose.   

You need to promote psychological safety so people can openly discuss ideas, questions, and concerns without fear of repercussions. This allows teams to make sense of the situation, and work out how to handle it, through healthy, open, and collaborative debate.


In times of crisis people will focus on their own survival first to meet the fundamental needs of their own wellbeing, health and families.  Will I fall ill? Will my family? Will I lose my job and my house? What happens then? Who will care for us? 

This is the time to uphold a key element of your role, which is to make a positive difference in people’s lives.  This doesn’t mean trying to solve everything or trying to give people false hope in order to cheer them up! It simply means acknowledging the personal and professional challenges that your people and their loved ones will be experiencing. After all, we are all in this together.

So as part of this, be open to empathy that others show you too and remain attentive to your own well-being.  It’s imperative that you sustain your own effectiveness over the coming months.

Focus on four key priorities

Creating an integrated ‘nerve centre’ of teams, covering four priority areas will help you to structure your activities and spot the connections and opportunities:

  • Serving your people

  • Stabilising your supply-chain 

  • Engaging and supporting your clients 

  • Financial stress testing and modelling.

Agree how decisions will be made

One important thing you need to do as a leader is to quickly establish an architecture for decision making so that accountability is clear and decisions are made by appropriate people at different levels. This also allows some robust planning should you fall ill during this period too.

Part of this infrastructure is to ensure you empower the right people to make decisions and accept that mistakes will be made.  People should be able to learn quickly and make corrections without overreacting or paralysing the organisation. 

Pausing frequently, assessing the situation from multiple vantage points, and trying to anticipate what may happen next, before acting is critical too as it helps to maintain a state of deliberate calm and avoid overreaction to new information as it comes in. 

Invite ideas

If you truly demonstrate that you are open to the ideas of your people, you will build trust and engagement, but also you are likely to achieve better results in the long term!

Put clear parameters or objectives around each initiative; for example, a positive impact on cash flow, reduction of costs, higher demand areas from clients, likely higher impact on saving jobs, etc.

By showing your people, not just saying, that you care about what they think, you will have stronger buy-in for the initiatives you eventually prioritise.

Consider all options

Before making people redundant, consider all available options.  Try to keep an open mind and an eye on the long term. What will you need as a business once we are through the worst of this pandemic?  One thing is for sure, you will need your best people to help you to re-build and possibly even re-define your business and possibly your business model.

There are many options out there and you may be surprised by how open and flexible people can be in times like these.  Shorter working weeks, reducing hours may be welcome as they try to juggle homeschooling or care for loved ones that are ill. Moving resources to higher demand or higher revenue-generating opportunities, re-skilling, job sharing, reducing employee benefits in the short term, halting bonuses or overtime payments, taking advantage of tax deferral opportunities, reducing paid holiday entitlement and unpaid leave or help to demonstrate that you want the business to survive through this period of turmoil.  If we all behave like we are in this together, we are more likely to find a way through this together, because we are and we will!

Share the Pain

Sadly, you may have difficult decisions to make. These will affect people’s jobs and livelihoods, so make sure you carefully consider how you can best spread the impact so that these tough calls impact fewer people on a deeper level.  Lead by example and reduce your own leadership expenses (for example, you may need to take a salary cut in the short term).


Working through a downturn, having to make tough decisions to keep your company going and doing the ‘next right thing’ is daunting and exhausting.  However, by leading with compassion you will touch the lives of your people in an extraordinary way and stand a great chance of emerging from this crisis stronger than ever before. This virus is the last thing anyone expected but the silver-lining could be that you develop more meaningfully shared values and a culture which will drive enhance productivity for years to come.

For more information on business topics in Africa, please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief Africa.

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