Part 2 – Leadership in 4 phases of the crisis

Ever since the world was gripped by the Covid-19 crisis, we are all very aware that we live in a VUCA-world: unpredictable, uncertain, complex and unclear. We have known this in theory for the last 5 years, but now it has really hit us.

The shock from the beginning has already subsided, but the question now is how we as companies, organisations and nations deal with this new reality. And how do we give leadership in the 4 phases of the crisis.

In my first publication from 28 April I gave an overview of the 4 phases:

  1. Surviving
  2. Coping
  3. Restoring
  4. Transforming

Now I want to highlight the role of the leaders in all four phases.

1. Surviving (swimming in deep water)

When the whole organisation is in the fight, flight or freeze mode, there is a need for empathic and robust leadership.

  • Empathic leadership

Any crisis brings people in a mourning process. That starts with the shock of loss. Then people become angry: who is to blame? Why does this happen to us? Then the depression comes. How can we ever survive this, and why is this so hopeless? And finally in the mourning process recovery starts to grow into the system. A school principal, responsible for 100 teachers and 1200 students, wrote an email to all the teachers every day of the week, for the first 4 weeks of the crisis. With personal notes, encouragement, updates on the situation and small tools how to handle your work and private life in this survival mode. People need empathy, want to be heard and seen and accepted in their pain and fears.

  • Robust Leadership

In the survival phase people need a daily rhythm of healthy life and work habits. So they stay healthy but also sense the satisfaction of daily (even when it is small) productivity. Give your people and staff small tools how to gain some grip again in their daily private and professional life.


2. Coping (you reach your life boat)

When the shock of the crisis is over in the first weeks, everything is different than before. What was normal will not return in this form. Now is the task for the leaders and all professionals to pick up life again, adapt to the new reality, and develop new solutions how to cope with this.

  • Adaptive leadership

You as a leader, but also all the professionals in your team need to grow in AQ-adaptive quotient. How can you use your unique skills and strengths, and translate them into the tools you need in this new world. Transform your products and services such a way that they will bring real added value for your customers who are also hit by the same crisis.

  • Resilient leadership

Train yourself and your team in all areas of resilience. Do the resilience-scan and start to intentionally train resilience because you and your team are now in for the marathon. Coping with the new reality needs people who are willing to see the reality in the face, take a stand, develop problem solving competences, and stand to build with determination.

  • Communicative leadership

In this phase everybody needs regular information and hopeful communication. Set up your daily and weekly communication for the whole organisation. You can use your what’s-app groups, mail connections or even video messages. Be aware that all your communication is

  • Honest (from your hart)
  • Personal
  • Informative and added value
  • Hopeful

3. Restoring (re-building your ship)

The challenge now is to leave the shock of the crisis and the first stages of coping behind and to reposition your whole organisation and all the professionals in your team to grow again.

Now is the time to rebuild forward, with new energy and new competences. As a leader you need to be in two phases at the same time. In survival, you need to swim alongside your surviving team. But at the same time you need to find the lifeboat of the coping phase, and prepare that phase for all. In the coping phase you need to train your team to cope, but also start to build the ship that is called “restoring phase”. And even in the restoring phase, where you enter now you need to focus on rebuilding your organisation, and at the same time prepare for transformation.

  • Architectonic leadership

Now you need to build resilience into the whole organisation. Rebuild effective structures, systems, meetings. Build your house again on the foundations of your core mission, key-competences, and now renewed products and services. Design a flexible and relatively simple structure to be able to work in the new world.

  • Mission driven leadership

Refocus your mission to be relevant in this new world. And re-define your DNA, your values and culture, so you will be able to grow healthy and disciplined, to rebuild your organisation. Every member of your team needs to be inspired by your mutual mission, to be mission driven by themselves.

  • Customer oriented leadership

Mediocrity is not accepted now! Every single professional in your organisation must be focused to deliver number 1 customer service on every step of the customer journey. It is not enough to deliver customer satisfaction. You will need to grow into customer inspiration. This is more about serving as selling! As a leader you should be on the forefront of working with and for your customers. Example inspires to follow.

  • Empowering leadership

Train your next level leadership, to grow in their full potential. They will build the organisation together with you so they need your regular (weekly) one on one support and listening heart, but also your generously given trust that they will grow into their full potential. Search, select integrate and coach those team members that will embody your renewed mission

4. Transformation (choosing to discover the ocean)

It is not enough to restore your organisation to the pre-crisis level of maturity and productivity. Your customers have new questions, desires, challenges. And the essence of a VUCA world is that we live in a world where we have to handle multiple crises in a continuously changing world. For most of the professionals in your team, this is not an attractive perspective. They are happy to be in the restoring phase after surviving and coping. And here lies the biggest challenge. Many organisations, companies, cities and nations, do not have enough basic energy to grow beyond the restoring phase. When the next crisis comes, they will dive deep again and merely try to survive again.

That is why you need to make use of the first 3 phases well. Than you will grow in energy and will be able to also grow into phase 4: transformation. Now we come to the next leadership qualities you need to grow into that transformation.

  • Dreaming leadership

When storks fly from Northern Europe to the South of Africa, they make a stop on the rock of Gibraltar. There they feed and then levitate on the hot winds to a height of 5000 meter, before they start their 9000 km journey all our over Africa. They do not use the strength of their wings but the strategic intelligence to glide on uplifting hot winds, all the way from Europe to South Africa. Most of them survive the whole journey. As a leader you need to take altitude and start to dream about your “new land” you will lead your organisation into. And ask yourself how you can bring dignity and destiny to your customers and the society around you. Discover the questions, challenges and opportunities of tomorrow, so you can transform your organisation to be ready to give leadership in the new world.

  • Design thinking leadership

Now is the time to team-up with other strategic thinkers and go through all the phases of design thinking:

  • Inspiration and empathic brainstorming
  • Ideation and building and testing prototypes
  • Implementation and engineering, building, and marketing your new products
  • Cultural leadership

Culture has a powerful effect. So you need to shape it, set it deep in peoples mind, and know to fix it when it goes wrong” – Ben Horowitz

So now is the time to deeply root your re-focused mission and your re-designed culture and DNA in all of your team members and stakeholders of your company, organisation, city or nation. This transformation phase is the opportunity to grow a healthy identity into your organisation. “The values of the leaders are de-facto the value canon of your organisation!”- Prof. H. Hemel

So cultural leadership is lived and secured in all levels of leadership. Take your time to design, grow and install the right culture for the next phase.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  1. Where are you personally in these 4 phases?
  2. Where are you as a team in these phases?
  3. What do you and your team need now the most?
  4. Where are your customers in these phases?
  5. How can you support them to live and grow through their own phases?