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Effective leadership in times of crisis

Matt Richardson, Senior Business Advisor at the Hub shares a strategic approach to managing a crisis highlighting the key attributes of a transformational leader.

It is well known that people are a company’s biggest asset, and as such they should always be at the heart of its growth strategy. This is even more pertinent during difficult times, such as the current Coronavirus pandemic.

During a crisis, deciphering whether you are a manager, or
a leader is critical. Management revolves around implementing processes to achieve strategic goals. Leadership on the other hand is all about the bigger picture, the vision, and driving innovation and change to capitalise on new opportunities and mitigate risks. In this sense,  the role of the leader through a crisis will adapt to the present situation:

  • Before a crisis - detect and either avoid a crisis if
    possible or plan appropriately if it is inevitable;
  • Crisis response - contain the threat and the impact on the organisation and your people and develop a recovery plan and look to the future
  • Post crisis - evaluate the response and implement learnings back into the organisation.

Before a crisis

Detect and either avoid a crisis if possible or plan appropriately if it is inevitable

  • Develop a proactive business strategy
    Tools such as a SWOT analysis and horizon scanning can be used to spot emerging trends and help put measures in place to either capitalise on new business opportunities or minimise threats. For example, businesses that took note of the escalating coronavirus situation in China in December, were better prepared as they had more time to understand how this could affect them and what actions had to be taken.

Crisis response

Contain the threat and the impact on the organisation and your people

Demonstrate empathy

During a crisis, regardless the scale, leaders should always acknowledge the professional and personal challenges that their staff are facing and take appropriate actions to support them if struggling. The Growth Company’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Resource Pack is a useful toolkit for managers to support their employees throughout the pandemic.



Adaptability is one of the key leadership abilities in a time of crisis. As the disruption unfolds, the situation can change drastically within a few weeks, or days or even hours as we have witnessed during these past two months. Leaders need to be agile and ready to embrace change and pivot when necessary. In the current situation, this could include:

  • Shifting resources within the business to cover potential gaps
  • Shifting production to new products/markets witnessing increased demand – a great example of this can be seen through one of our clients, Zymurgorium, a gin distillery, which diversified and started producing hand sanitiser
  • Being flexible with staff, understanding their current needs and how they would like to be managed. Leaders should seek to understand how a crisis may affect certain staff members (such as employees with young children or those who care for family members) and accommodate appropriate working arrangements where possible (changing working hours, responsibilities). For example, if caring responsibilities make virtual meetings/calls challenging, it could be beneficial to adapt the team member’s role to include less front facing work.


Keeping staff in the loop with business updates and developments is key in times of uncertainty. During the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent shift to remote working the below should be considered: 

  • Ensure all contact details are correct for all staff;
  • Confirm communication
    plan – arrange what works best for you and your staff with regards to communicating with each other
  • Plan ahead for team calls and meetings – understand which staff might need more communication than others. This should also be the case when providing updates to furloughed staff which can support their smooth
    transition when they return to working life as well as
    their mental health during the furlough period


Don’t take on all the responsibility if you don’t have to. A challenge that the People, Skills and Talent team often encounter with our clients is that business owners try to do everything themselves and struggle to delegate responsibilities to staff. This could be attributed to two reasons:

  • prevalence of an “I’ve always done it” or “they’ll take too long” or “get it wrong” mentality
  • the business owner hasn’t identified ‘shining lights’ or those staff who are prepared and keen to take on more responsibility haven’t come forward.

In relation to point two, this may indicate a development need in the workforce, and leaders may need to engage with staff about this. If there are no staff in the organisation who want to develop or step up, the recruitment strategy of the business may need to be developed, as ultimately the business growth will be hampered long-term.


An important part of being a leader is inspiring your team to share your vision. Including staff in the decision-making process and empowering them to contribute ideas and help shape this vision can boost staff satisfaction, motivation and ultimately productivity


Develop a recovery plan and look to the future

As we have seen leaders need to look at the business holistically and consider both its current and future state. It’s important to not focus all your time and efforts on surviving or fire-fighting, as this isn’t sustainable and will not give you an opportunity to look at the bigger picture and achieve the medium/long-term goals. Ensure you dedicate time to developing and growing your business. Use your professional networks to gain ideas andbest practice tips from your industry to better understand what’s working well and what isn’t. In addition, it’s useful to remember about your business’s overarching network including family and friends, acquaintances, people who you might have met at networking events and workshops, people who just show up on your social media feed and others. They are also a resource for you to use to learn from.

Think about and ask them:

  • How are they handling the situation?
  • What are they doing?
  • What problems are they facing?

It’s important to understand that we are all interconnected and can serve as a sounding board for each other to bounce ideas off of and overcome the challenges created by the COVID-19 outbreak.

There is no doubt that the current situation will change the way we do business going forward, and not just in the short term. To power your proactive business strategy, you could start evaluating your business model and map out opportunities and threats to your business.

Here are a couple of examples you could consider:

  • How might your business model change?
  • How could this affect the way you operate?
  • How could this change the way you serve your customers?
  • How could this change who your customers are?
  • How could this change who your staff is? (Potential opportunity to access a larger workforce if they can be based out of the region and work remotely)
  • How could this change the way you recruit?
  • How could this change the way you train your workforce?

Planning ahead is crucial to ensure you can secure the skills needed for business continuity. In the current scenario, this includes making preparations for staff who are returning from furlough – furloughed staff should not be expected to hit the ground running when they return and may need
some time to adjust, especially if the business operations have changed due to the current pandemic. Leaders should book in one-to-one time with furloughed staff in order to bring them up to speed and allow time for staff to ask any questions they may have.

The Growth Company’s Business Recovery webinar series can support leaders preparing for the gradual easing of lockdown and business post COVID-19.


Post crisis

Evaluate the response and implement learnings back into the organisation

Accurately and actively reviewing your response to a crisis both from an organisational and personal perspective as a leader can be hugely beneficial. The learnings that come from the review can be both positive and negative and should feed into and shape your ongoing business strategy. If you cannot pinpoint and understand what went well or what could have gone better, you will not be able to replicate the success or avoid similar missteps in a future crisis.

Support Available

If you need further advice and resources, the People, Skills and Talent team is here to provide free, impartial support for you. Get in touch on: 0161 237 4128 or email us at

Contact us
Matthew Richardson

Matthew Richardson , Leadership and Workforce Development Advisor

Matt has over 10 years’ experience of working in both the health and charity sectors to improve systematic change in behaviour towards community and workforce development. Matt now works within the Leadership and Workforce Development Team, whilst supporting the Business Growth Hub and Combined Authorities Inclusive Growth agenda. Matt has experience of running nationwide health improvement programmes and in 2015 worked in partnership with the World Health Organisation to create the world’s first British Sign Language version of the Alcohol AUDIT screening tool.

Contact Matt at or via LinkedIn.



The information provided is meant as a general guide only rather than advice or assurance. GC Business Growth Hub does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this information and professional guidance should be sought on all aspects of business planning and responses to the coronavirus. Use of this guide and toolkit are entirely at the risk of the user. Any hyperlinks from this document are to external resources not connected to the GC Business Growth Hub and The Growth Company is not responsible for the content within any hyperlinked site.

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