The Five Foundations of Resilient Leadership in Times of Turmoil

There are a number of strong lessons from history that have proven to be successful and they distinguish good leaders and managers as effective stewards of their organization through great crisis. Remember, “A leader in a dealer in hope”. Your role is to develop ways of making the lives of your stakeholders more hopeful and purpose-driven when faced with crisis.

The rapid spread of COVID-19 and current racial friction in the United States are causing leaders and managers to seriously re-think how they do business. There are great concerns about social distancing, face masks, disruption to peoples’ lives, providing products and services and being able to meet company’ financial commitments. There is also significant social and economic fallout associated with business limitations, temporary and potentially, permanent closures. Business survival is at stake for large and small business alike. You can make plans to deal with it, or at least, attempt to mitigate damage to your business, by following the five steps outlined below.

Lead with your heart, and balance your leadership with your head.

 In times of crisis, it can be difficult to acknowledge the soft skills needed to provide people with hope, purpose and compassion because you are “knee deep” in keeping your business afloat. The skills you need to draw upon skills are good, solid self-awareness, being able to control yourself for the good of those you lead, being socially aware, and being able to manage relations with stakeholders in a thoughtful, honest way.

I call this being able to “master your own mind” and it draws on your emotional intelligence skills to manage all relationship in the best way possible around your business. Communicate, communicate. The best practice is always to “walk a mile” in the shoes of your customers, employees, suppliers and shareholders. You should feel obliged to show moral courage and strength and rationally protect your enterprise’s financial performance. Stakeholders will help you if you get them onboard and show you have their interests at heart. Hard decisions will also need to be made with empathy, kindness and gratitude though.

 Put your organization’s mission and vision first.

Lead with the mission and values of your company. It will provide you with a road map you can adapt and pivot on if you need to. How you do Sales, Operations, IT and HR etc. may all have to change the way they are undertaken, just as they have today with people working from home and other unfortunately being furloughed.

Skilled leaders, like you, know how to triage and stabilize your organization to meet crisis. You may need to pivot and make rapid changes. Your team will pivot with you if you are using your heart and head. Problem solving and sound decision making skills will be very important during this time so you need to communicate every step of the way what you are thinking. You will find opportunities inside difficult circumstances. Trust me.

Take decisive action as rapidly as you can.

Utilize problem solving methodology to make decisions with wisdom, courage and ethics, and be guided by your business’ mission and values. Conduct a SWOT Analysis on where your business is right now on a piece of paper. It will be different from where it was at the beginning of 2020. Be mindful of this. It will be extremely difficult to make the perfect decision at this time, yet waiting for all of the information may not serve your business well. Review your resources, and assess how resourceful you and your stakeholders are. Often you will have to venture into uncharted territory so business school learning may not be of great help to you.

Make the narrative your own.

As a resilient leader, you will need to seize the narrative from the very beginning to calm your stakeholders’ fears and concerns.  Don’t tell them what they want to hear. Tell the truth in a positive way by detailing what has to be done to thrive and survive as a business. Create a vision for stakeholders. Being transparent about your business environment realities will also be very important. Paint a compelling picture of the future you see for the company to inspire those associated with the business. People will follow you because you are giving them hope and purpose.

Embrace the longer-term view.

Resilient leaders stay focused on the vision and values of the business in the long term. They stay motivated and maintain courage in the face of adversity. They also anticipate that new business, business models, and innovative methods and technology, will emerge from the crisis. You may find you have quite a different business after you have implemented these five steps

Google Admiral James Bond Stockdale’s story of when he was a prisoner of war in the Hanoi Hilton from 1965, and learn what he did as the most senior POW in the camp. He realized what was in his control, and also what was outside his control. He never stopped providing the other POWs with leadership, structure, compassion and forgiveness because he had a vision and a purpose for his life, the military, and the lives of the other troops. I hope you have taken something away from this article. It is possible.

By adopting these five (5) strategies, a leader can position his/her business to respond to the immediate situation, manage continuity of business, recover with new strength and learning, and the strive in the “new normal.” They will also be able to seize new opportunities to move forward and pivot where needed, rather than waiting to return to the previous status quo.

Contact Suzi Stich at to delve deeper into these strategies.