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- Elon Musk, Investor & Entrepreneur
6 min read
By Nick Bell

How to lead in a time of crisis


Times of economic uncertainty always show up sooner or later, no matter how great the economy seems to be doing in the years or decades beforehand. But although crises pop up from time to time, great leadership can make a huge difference.

But what if you don’t know how to lead a time of crisis and your business or employees are depending on you? This guide can help.


Good leadership is arguably the biggest factor that separates businesses or organizations from success and failure in times of crisis. Leadership provides direction for a company that suddenly needs to adjust course or make radical changes across the board. Similarly, a leader can provide confidence and motivation for employees that might otherwise lose hope in their industry or in their personal plans.

People are more than willing to work hard if they have a leader they can believe in. In other words, a leader acts as a stabilizer or anchor for an organization. If you can be a great leader, your company will survive and possibly even thrive during a time of crisis when other companies go under.


The first thing you should learn to do is communicate openly – even more so if you’re already an open communicator. Communication is key in times of crisis, as your employees or subordinates will likely have tons of questions and be demanding answers. Now is not the time for strategic silence. Share everything you can that doesn’t compromise the company’s interests and you’ll gain the trust of your employees.

Open communication also provides an additional benefit: it gives employees a window to share their concerns with you. Many of these concerns might be things you wouldn’t even think about due to your different positions. This, in turn, allows you to see more of a bird’s eye picture of the entire company and make smarter decisions in the long run.


Speaking of decisions… make them! One of the big responsibilities of leaders is to make decisions so that other employees can carry out those decisions. Learn to be decisive, especially in a time of crisis.

This is much easier said than done, of course, especially since tons of people worry that they might make the wrong decision and cause the company to spiral even further into catastrophe.

But this is the wrong way to look at things. Stalling your decision or being indecisive is actually worse than making the wrong decision. Say that you run a company and have to decide whether to lay off an entire branch of the organization or keep them on at significant financial risk. You have to make a decision one way or the other.

If you stall, you’ll look at decisive and your employees won’t feel confident in your leadership. Furthermore, they’ll blame you even more if things go bad without you making a clear decision.

But if you make any decision, you’ll at least look like an active and involved leader and motivate those who remain. Even if you end up making the wrong decision, you can take responsibility for the failure and learn from your mistakes.


You should also be more open to feedback than ever before during times of crisis. As you’re making decisions and trying to right the ship, your employees might provide valuable insight that you can use to bolster your efforts.

For instance, you might consider laying off that entire branch mentioned before. But an employee might feel that you’re open to feedback and tell you that there are other ways to save money during the crisis. You can use this information to save the branch, save the company money, and earn the goodwill of all your employees at the same time.


Although being an effective leader is important, no leader can run an organization by themselves, least of all during a crisis. It’s important that you find helpers or “lieutenants” to help you run things and make decisions, or at least ensure that those decisions are carried out across the board.

These may be subordinates that you already have in place because of company organization. Or they might be employees that you select specifically for helping you manage the crisis until it’s all averted. Either way, these lieutenants can help you maintain decisive energy and keep you moving from problem to problem, solving issues until things are calmer and everything can return to normal.


A crisis of any kind, whether it’s specific to your company or market-wide, inevitably creates a lot of tension and anxiety in the office. It’s important that leaders constantly vocalize their gratitude to their employees, who may be feeling underappreciated or ignored as leaders spend lots of time in meetings making sweeping decisions. This is doubly true when companies have to cut pay: nothing makes employees feel underappreciated more.

Vocalizing your gratitude and taking special time to talk to your employees and listen to their grievances will go a long way toward maintaining workplace motivation and cementing company loyalty. However, be careful that your gratitude isn’t empty; many employees won’t be impressed by just words.

It often helps to promise incentives or rewards for excellent performance throughout the duration of the crisis. This is especially true when it relates to pay; consider docking your own pay if necessary to keep employees happy or to give out bonuses at the end of the crisis.


This is related to the above: you should always prioritize the motivation of your employees or subordinates. After all, you won’t be able to run a company effectively through a crisis or manager branch if your employees aren’t on board.

Do everything you can to make sure they stay motivated and believe in the company mission even as the market shakes around them. This is so much more important than your stockholders or fellow leaders. Never forget that your employees are what make things run in the first place. You need them motivated and following your lead to succeed.

About the author


Co-Founder of Lisnic.com 🔥 & Founder of 12 digital agencies 🎯
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