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Leaders Inspire: Leading in Times of Crisis

Matej Potokar, MBA, Founder and Executive Coach, Lanicon

The coronavirus pandemic has been an epic test of character and determination for all people around the world. Nothing compares with the sacrifice of workers on the front lines in hospitals and other essential services. In the business context, business leaders have had to cope with extraordinary demands, both personally and professionally.

Coping with the sudden shutdown of the global economy was hard enough, figuring out how to restart in such an uncertain environment is, if anything, even harder. Leaders are expected to show deliberate, calm, and bounded optimism. Everyone wants them to demonstrate empathy and, at the same time, be highly engaged and fact-based in their actions. They are expected to make a positive difference in people’s lives with their leadership and have both a coherent long-term view and a set of effective short-term fixes at hand. Yet, for all their expertise, they are grappling with many new questions for which they do not have answers, even as their teams look to them for direction. The Covid-19 crisis is a once-in-a-century event, and no training or experience in previous downturns has prepared business leaders for it.

As a business leader, you are expected to take care of everyone – but who will take care of you? Fatigue may cloud your judgment and interfere with your ability to process information and remain level-headed. Take a cue from those safety videos on airplanes: put the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on the person next to you.

Find the time for simple daily routines that can preserve your mental and physical stamina. Start with your own feelings. It is essential that you are demonstrating empathy, but now you need to be open to empathy from others too.

It is more important than ever to know your strengths and pace yourself. You may need to delegate more, engaging others to help. It also means being particularly careful with your time management.

In a crisis, it can be easy for business leaders to busy themselves with urgent meetings and operational issues. But the tendency to make yourself busy can also mask an underlying vulnerability. It is a way of showing you are in control, just when you fear you may not be. To be truly effective, you need to be a leader who can look beyond the daily conflagrations, thinking, and planning for the long term even as you put out the fires raging around you.

Business leaders need to have in mind an end game of sorts, a broader vision that incorporates goals such as the ultimate purpose of the company, the values it stands for, and the kinds of people it will and won’t attract as employees and as customers.

During and after the crisis, leaders want an objective sounding board, a safe place to vent, and share concerns and fresh perspectives. In challenging times, many business leaders work with executive and leadership coaches. They support and guide them through massive challenges. Together they can find solutions; how to handle their own overwhelm; how to motivate others who might be afraid, how to plan different scenarios, how to think strategically while still managing the daily fires, how to develop new ways of doing business;  and how to take care of themselves with limited time and sleep.


Executive and leadership coaches can help leaders find more energy, be more productive, and lead their teams to the winning end game more effectively.