Leading Effectively in a Crisis

Crises can emerge in many different forms, and they often strike without warning. Although companies have long faced financial crisis and economic downturns, leaders have likely never faced a crisis quite like the COVID-19 pandemic. With the world turned on its head for many Americans, the need to feel secure and stable is omnipresent. As company leaders look to formulate plans to handle this crisis and the return to a new normal, one crucial factor in effective crisis management cannot be overlooked – leading with emotional intelligence (EI). 

During an unprecedented crisis such as this, intelligent handling of the emotions that come with it is critical. It is human instinct to follow emotions and be reactionary, however as a leader, the ability to manage emotions is an incredibly valuable quality. In fact, EI is now being heralded as a crucial people skill to help navigate turbulent waters in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Simply put, an emotionally intelligent leader will handle any crisis, big or small, better than someone without EI competencies. 

There is no better time than now to recognize and develop the key competencies that can help leaders face any crisis with lower levels of stress, less emotional reactivity, and fewer unintended consequences. There are four key competencies that effective emotional intelligent leaders have developed:


Are you being self-aware?

Self-awareness means you are aware and conscious of your own feelings and your thoughts about them. While stress is a normal part of life, in the midst of this pandemic it can be elevated to extreme heights. You may be feeling sad, confused, or angry. Recognizing your emotional state and acknowledging what you’re feeling puts you in charge, not your emotions. Thoughtful awareness of feelings allows you to handle them in a constructive way – without such awareness, your emotions will dictate your actions. 

To build your self-awareness, slow down and examine your emotions before reacting. Try journaling or meditation a few minutes each day to help better identify how you are feeling. Ask trusted friends or colleagues for direct and honest feedback to give you a better understanding of who you are, which will allow you to better understand what you need most to complement your own leadership.

Leading Effectively in a Crisis

Are you self-managing?

Self-management is the ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods. In short, it is your propensity to suspend judgement and to think before acting. While you cannot control what is happening with the pandemic, you can choose how to respond to the circumstances. More than ever, handling your distressing emotions in an effective way so they do not get in the way of what you need to do is crucial. 

Without self-control, you are at risk of letting your emotions dictate your actions. When you’re in the middle of a crisis, you want the part of your brain that allows you to think rationally to be the boss, not the part of your brain where emotions are experienced. Try practicing being calm and in control and be aware of your reactions to challenging situations. It is also important to know your values and what’s most important to you.

Are you socially aware and displaying empathy?

People are scared, stressed, and worried. Your ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people and what they are experiencing from their perspective is a key component of EI. Having the capacity to empathize with others’ experience can help unite your workers and teams to face these new realities together. A social awareness for all the ways in which this pandemic impacts the business and people allows you to have a complete picture of what needs to be solved, while displaying empathy for concerns will allow you to obtain support and help in resolving the crisis. 

Be sure to look at situations from other peoples’ point of view. Listening is more critical than ever. Ask yourself what other people would do in a particular situation. Also, suspend any negative self-talk or your own self-judgement so you can focus on exercising empathy and social awareness. 

Are you managing relationships?

When crisis strikes, it is essential to manage many relationships among many people. Relationship management is your proficiency in building networks and finding common ground to build rapport. Even more important is your ability to inspire others, foster teamwork and influence people in the direction your desire. Be the leader who shows gratitude, flexibility and who praises the efforts of courageous and resilient colleagues who are making work happen under extreme adversity. 

Leaders who show optimism by taking responsibility for their actions and finding solutions to problems will help themselves, and others. Your communication skills are critically important right now. Be sure to collaborate effectively, listen well, and build rapport.

This too shall pass.

Now more than ever, you can leverage the power of emotional intelligence to remain grounded, not panic, and focus on building the future you want for your business and community. While you can’t undo this crisis, it is a vital reminder of the importance of developing your EI competencies. Doing so will make the process of getting through the next one much smoother.

Topics: Thought Leadership, Team Dynamics, Emotional Intelligence