Become a CreatorSign inGet Started

The Two Principles Of Crisis Leadership That Every Leader Should Know

Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, crisis leadership is rapidly getting traction.


Jeroen Kraaijenbrink

4 months ago | 3 min read


Covid-19 has caused one of the world’s deepest crises ever. As a result, many organizations face challenging times. This has led to a significant rise of attention to the topic of crisis leadership. But, finding the forest for the trees is not easy.

An analysis of best practices, tips and tricks, and recommendations by experts shows that two key principles stand out.

The Crisis Leadership Hype

Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, crisis leadership is rapidly getting traction. YouTube, for example, is full of videos about crisis leadership, many of which have been posted this year.

Furthermore, consultancy companies such as McKinsey actively communicate about topics such as “managing in extreme uncertainty,” “leadership for a new era,” and “responsive leadership.”

The first books about crisis leadership that specifically respond to Covid-19 have come out as well: Leadership U: Accelerating Through the Crisis Curve and Leadership in a Time of Crisis: The Way Forward in a Changed World. And, at the personal level, I have recently created an e-learning course on Crisis-Proof Strategy, covering the topic of crisis leadership.

The increased attention is understandable. Crisis situations ask for crisis leadership—whether you are a CEO, a manager, or a president. But the sheer amount of available information has made it hard to find the forest for the trees and know what it takes to be a leader in times of crisis.

There is simply so much to pay attention to. Let me illustrate that by a randomly picked set of recommendations from the book, Leadership in a Time of Crisis:

  • Stop projects ruthlessly
  • Shift resources swiftly
  • Find the ‘off switch’ for anxiety and stress
  • Keep team members optimistic
  • Examine your values first
  • Take the long approach
  • Create buffers in time
  • Create buffers in space
  • Hit the “pause button”
  • Be the best version of yourself
  • Lead with character and courage
  • Lead with agility and innovation

And so on. While each and every recommendation may be useful in and of itself, they trigger the question as to what the core of crisis leadership is.

And they also trigger the question as to how different crisis leadership is from leadership in “normal” times. After all, don’t we expect all of the above also from our leaders when there is no crisis?

Boiled down to its essence, crisis leadership can be summarized with two principles: 1) Always assume the possibility of a crisis, and 2) Always lead in the same way, crisis or not. They reflect two sides of the same coin. But it is worth separating them and discuss both.

Principle 1: Always assume the possibility of a crisis

As research shows, denial is the number one problem with crises. Therefore, continuous awareness of the possibility of a crisis is the first key principle of crisis leadership. Here is short video making this point quite explicitly.

The message is simple: "Assume the boom"—always assume the possibility of a crisis. Despite its simplicity, this is an important principle. You don't want to just manage a crisis when it is there.

You want to crisis-proof your organization so that, whatever kind of crisis may come, you are prepared. And this is something to be aware of every single day. Which brings us immediately to the second key principle of crisis leadership.

Principle 2: Always lead in the same way, crisis or not

Of course, times of crisis are different from "normal" times. And leading in times of a crisis will often be more challenging than at other times.

However, to effectively lead your organization—unit, department, team, or country—in times of crisis, it is key that you lead it already in the right way before that, and afterwards.

Becoming crisis-proof means that dealing with crises becomes a natural, everyday part of doing business throughout your organization.

This means that "crisis leadership" is something you have to already engage in, naturally, as part of everyday business. It can't be something special or exceptional.

There is another, quite practical reason for this too: You can't simply "switch on" your crisis leadership style and capabilities when there is a crisis and switch them off again when the crisis is over.

Leadership doesn't work like that. Being a strong and effective leader means being a strong and effective leader all the time—crisis or not.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website or some of my other work here


Created by

Jeroen Kraaijenbrink


Strategy consultant, mentor, writer and speaker

Dr Jeroen Kraaijenbrink is an accomplished strategy educator, speaker, writer and consultant with over two decades of experience bridging academia and industry. Drawing from cognitive psychology, humanism, Saint Benedict, and a wide range of other sources, he is the author of numerous articles on strategy, sustainability and personal leadership and five books: Strategy Consulting, No More Bananas, Unlearning Strategy, and the two-volume practical guide to strategy The Strategy Handbook. He is an active Forbes contributor where he writes about strategy, leadership and how to embrace the complexity and uncertainty of this world. Jeroen has a PhD in industrial management, teaches strategy at the University of Amsterdam Business School, and has helped many midsized and larger companies across the engineering, manufacturing, healthcare and financial services industries.







Related Articles