How can I be a kick-ass leader in a crisis and be there for my team?

I once read in a Politico article that “… the first victim of a pandemic is leadership.”Ouch.

As an owner or leader of a small business, your leadership skills will never, ever be more called for than in a crisis.

While there are loads of ways to ride the storm, here’s some advice on how to prevail as the kick-ass leader you know you can be 👊


Apparently, Marie Antoinette once said: “In times of crisis, it is of utmost importance to keep one's head.”

But when things go south – snappy emails, raised voices, and rash decision making – can easily start to rise to the fore.

You could argue that as a small business owner, you have fewer reasons to keep your head, compared to a leader in a corporate business. After all, the buck stops with you. So, yes, any feelings of grumpiness and stress, are completely normal and totally warranted 😰

But, despite the inner turmoil you may feel, try to stay calm in front of your people. Even if outside of work you let off steam. By the way, exercise is great for that 🏸

By emanating a sense of calm, your people will feel reassured. You can still be humble and admit that you’re feeling the heat – but try to remain level-headed.

It might be helpful to reach out to people in a similar position to you – like other small business owners in your industry, or even in your town. It’s likely they’ll have gone through similar experiences in the past, or are doing so now. Not only will this make you feel less alone – you might even be able to nick some ideas from them!

On a global scale, former prime minister Gordon Brown criticised world leaders for not doing this when COVID-19 first reared its ugly head. In a Guardian article, he said: “Why, as the disease engulfs more than 100 countries, has there been no consistent, coordinated global approach not just to tracking, testing and travel but to openly learning from each other about the relative merits of quarantine and social distancing?


As a leader, your people are gonna expect you to be the font of all knowledge. In reality you won’tbe, but you do have a duty to keep on top of what’s going on.

This is a tall order if the picture’s changing rapidly and external forces are involved. And in this digital age we live in, your people can get their hands on as much information as you can, so there’s even more pressure on your shoulders to stay one step ahead. EEK!

Of course, they’ll be loads of people chucking in their two pennyworth. But, you to get into the habit of “…separating charged emotions from facts and data.” This is awesome advice from a Fast Company piece I read. You gotta stick to credible sources of information that can be substantiated.

In the throes of a local, national, or even global crisis – it’s SOOO tempting to get drawn into what’s in the media. But, scrolling news sites will rob you of your valuable time. Instead, try to dedicate a couple of times in the day to get up to speed – and then crack on with running your business.

Stick times in the diary each day to chat with your staff, and for them to tell you what’s on their mind. By doing this consistently at a pre-arranged time, you stop ✋🏼the entire day being dominated by unhelpful discussions. Don’t forget to include your remote workers too. It’ll help them to feel more connected to you.

Whenever you feel overwhelmed, try to cut through the noise and remember that all you have to do is: “Get the facts, communicate them responsibly, and know your audience.” Super-duper advice there from Eliot Hoff, Head of APCO Worldwide’s Global Crisis Practice.


According to Richard Branson’s “Every success story is a tale of constant adaption, revision, and change.”

When you’re right smack in the middle of turbulent times, you need to challenge your fixed thinking and get more pragmatic. How you normally do things won’t always cut the mustard in a crisis.

For example, if you’re the type of leader who hates managing a remote workforce and typically won’t allow it, then you probably need to adapt – if that’s what the situation calls for.

Top-notch small business owners are able to rapidly adapt to moving situations by being open to new ways of leadership and new ways of doing business.

Take diversification for example – a brilliant way to survive in a crisis. In the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants adapted amazingly well by turning up the heat on takeaway and delivery options. Another example of mega versatility was a Scottish gin distillery using alcohol to diversify into the hand sanitiser market. And JCB making ventilators instead of diggers.

👉🏼Remember, a fixed-mindset can really strangle creativity.


When disaster strikes, be visible, be present, and be there to listen to your people 👂🏼

While you’re in crisis mode, have a think about what you want your legacy to be. You’re probably thinking: “What? I don’t have time for that!”But it’ll really help you to shape your response.

Will your legacy be the panicky, frenzied stress-head, when faced with an emergency? Or will it be the manager who demonstrated complete control and inspired their people to triumph?

After all, when written in Chinese, the word crisis is made up of two parts – one means danger, and the other means opportunity 🇨🇳

Whilst you're here, why not take my Lead like a Boss quiz and find out whether you have the right leadership skills to be able to take your business to the next level.


☹️ Yes, small business owners and leaders carry a huge weight of responsibility on their shoulders when a crisis kicks off.

👍🏼 But it’s mega important to stay calm in front of your people by putting emotions to one side.

🤗 Humility is still required – it’s okay to show you’re human. And don’t forget to reach out to your local or industry networks for help.

🔍 Dedicate time to stay on top of information from credible sources, but don’t lose yourself in this. Carve out set times to keep your people up to speed and to hear their concerns.

🤔 Prepare to adjust your thinking and routines around leadership and operational stuff. Fixed thinking will hold you back.

🚢 And finally, think about what you want people to say about the way you steered the ship in challenging times. In other words, your crisis legacy.

If you need more help, advice, or leadership coaching in a crisis – then please get in touch

Mandy Hamerla

Mandy Hamerla​

Virtual HR Director & Leadership Mentor. I create game-changing HR & Hiring Strategies for ambitious small businesses in the UK and support you to lead your team with confidence. Check out my shop to download HR Templates & Contracts designed to make life easier.