Executive Insights, Updated 2023

Top 10 critical leadership skills in a time of crisis



Critical leadership skills

Leadership skills are vital for any manager, regardless of their role or level within an organization. The most important skills are those directly related to your position, whether you’re a Sales Manager, HR Analytics Manager, Application Development Manager, Customer Service Manager, or any other management role. The following skills have been observed in exceptional managers during challenging times:

1. Empathy

To be an effective leader, it’s crucial to put yourself in the shoes of those you communicate with – be it clients, employees, suppliers, or peers. Display empathy for their situations and lead with humility. Even small acts can make a significant difference, and your efforts will be remembered both now and later.

2. Honesty

In crises, it’s impossible to have all the answers. Be upfront about what you know and don’t know. Faking knowledge will only cause you to lose trust. Instead, be humble and transparent about any uncertainties so that everyone can understand the basis of your decisions.

3. Clarity

Keep communication concise and straightforward without resorting to complex language. Make informed decisions instead of remaining indecisive. Clearly outline objectives and plans for the situation at hand, ensuring everyone understands the timelines for actions and strategies.

4. Prioritization

While various ideas and actions may emerge during a crisis, focusing on a select few that will have the most significant impact is essential. This approach enables clearer communication since organizations generally concentrate on at most three primary goals.

5. Risk mitigation

Be aware of potential risks but don’t let them deter decision-making processes. Identify and prioritize risks while integrating them into subsequent decision-making efforts to maintain agility with risk awareness – and, when necessary, risk aversion.

6. Empowerment

During challenging times, it is essential to empower your team members instead of trying to make all the decisions yourself. Distributed decision-making leads to faster results and contextualized outcomes while allowing others to feel accountable during difficult circumstances.

7. Agility

Being agile as a leader is crucial to your organization’s success, especially during challenging times. Agile principles from software development have great applicability in the business world. As a leader, making quick and flexible decisions is essential. Be prepared to fail, learn, and move on swiftly. Create teams that are multifunctional and can tackle small, ongoing projects efficiently. Your ability to adapt and respond to new information helps your organization thrive in a constantly changing landscape. Embrace change, but remember to have a plan that can be adjusted when needed.

8. Communication (storytelling)

Effective communication is vital during crises. Clear, concise, and frequent messages ensure that everyone is on the same page. Repeating the message across various channels increases its reach and effectiveness. Keep in mind that hearing doesn’t necessarily translate to understanding; repetition solidifies comprehension.

9. Execution

Execution is the key to success. Use your competencies and experience in your specific role—product management, service, HR, sales, digital marketing, etc.—to drive results for your organization. Remember to keep long-term considerations in mind while working towards short-term goals.

10. Cost Management

Understanding cost management and the financial aspects of your organization is crucial in times of crisis. Decision-making should always consider both short-term and long-term economic impacts on the organization while being mindful of its financial model. Better decisions result from a thorough understanding of costs and finances.

Although there may be other critical leadership skills for various situations, such as crises or mergers and acquisitions, these are some of the most essential ones to consider. And always remember to prioritize your existing clients, as they are the ones who will help you navigate through challenging times successfully.

As you skim through this list, you might realize that it reflects your current behavior, encompassing the skills you utilize every day. If that’s the case, fantastic – you’re among a select group of exceptional leaders! However, your role doesn’t end there; it’s crucial to impart your knowledge and coach others within your organization right away. Success in crisis management isn’t solely determined by one leader’s actions but rather by a collaborative effort from leaders across the organization. By consistently demonstrating these skills and striving to improve as a mentor and coach, we can all contribute towards elevating our organizations to new heights.

Peter Soendergaard

Peter Soendergaard


Peter is Chairman of the Board at 2021.AI and the Owner of Executive Advisory company, the Sondergaard Group. Before this, Peter worked as the Executive VP and member of Gartner’s operating committee for 15 years. Peter is a well-known and sought out speaker covering many topics within IT, AI & ML.

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