How do Leaders deal with Crisis?

Often, there are jokes with regards to leadership in an organization. We have, at least once in our lifetime, had the perception of what a leader’s role was – having a title that aggrandizes oneself and having a pool of minions working under you.

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However, we have also learnt from this module, the importance of the role of a leader in an organization. Leaders are responsible for leading their employees towards a desired organization goal. In addition, we have covered several organizational behavior challenges one would have to manage in the workplace. Notably, such challenges involve around the issue of employee engagement and satisfaction, managing conflicts arising due to cross-cultural behaviors, integrating employees from different age groups etc. These examples, however, are mostly manageable, dealt with and kept within the confines of the office building. fdUitWFL


On the contrary, the scale and intensity of a crisis is tenfold in comparison to the usual conflicts that we observe in the workplace. Crisis management needs to be reactive and lead by the events and subsequent demands and response from the stakeholders. With reference to this pyramid diagram created by Tony Ridley, a seasoned crisis management/leadership professional educator, we see that employees and leaders alike are often faced with general conflicts in the workplace – ranked under “routine exposure”. In the “crisis” level, however, is the pinnacle of disruption in an organization.pyramid

Calamites strike when we least expect it. To name a few, we have the famous 9/11 terrorist attack, the great Mumbai flood in 2005 and recently, the controversial case of MH370 Malaysian aircraft. We also witness both the downfall and triumph of leaders in handling a crisis. Tony Hayward fell into the ditch and had to leave his post as BP’s chief after taking much of the flak for BP’s poor public handling of the disastrous Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill. He left BP company in a dire state, with low investor confidence and prospects, translating to unmotivated employees. On the other hand, Rudy Junilai, New York’s mayor, remained in the guard rails and was nominated as the “Person of the Year” in Times Magazine. He was applauded for his efforts to consolidate and rebuilt the remains of the city, after the 9/11 terrorist bombing.

Tony Hayward

Rudy Junilai

This leads us to the golden question that we should all be asking: How do leaders handle such crisis? Since the stress faced from this situation is beyond normal coping capabilities, how exactly can a leader practice strategic crisis leadership?

According to works studied by academia Gary Yukl, there are several guidelines in place when it comes to dealing with crisis.

  • Anticipate problems and prepare them
  • Learn to recognize early warning signs for an impending problem
  • Quickly identify the nature and scope of the problem
  • Direct and response by the unit or team in a confident and decisive way
  • Keep people informed about a major problem and what is being done to resolve it
  • Use a crisis as an opportunity to make necessary changes

In addition, there are programs and trainings available for crisis management, on websites like  or Tony Ridley’s website

Nonetheless, it is unsurprising that the silver lining of crisis management comes from how the leader exhibits humility and compassion that conveys a strong sense of assurance and comfort to stricken victims of the crisis. Here are a few pointers which I feel that are critical for an effective crisis management from a leader:

1) Prioritize the people’s safety first as they are your immediate responsibility
2) Assume appropriate responsibility to reduce the damage caused by the crisis at all means.
3) Address the needs of all stakeholder (internally or externally) in a timely manner to uphold corporate reputation
4) All decisions and actions must be ethical and integrity must not be compromised.

The successful handling of a crisis is paramount for the leader of an organization. As studied in previous Organizational Behaviour topics, the personal and positional power of the leader, more specifically referent and legitimate, will increase tremendously in the eyes of the employees. These will translate to greater commitment and loyalty from the employees towards the organization, making recovery efforts more effective and efficient in the long run.


Gary Yukl:  Leaderships in Organizations (8th edition)

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