Leadership: 5 Key Guidelines for Leaders During a Crisis

Lessons in leadership to pave the way for preservation and prosperity

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We were in the middle of the Gulf of Tonkin patrolling the waters off the coast of North Vietnam and then it happened. The ship’s broadcast sounded an alarm that every sailor has been trained to react to and move into action like a robot getting signals from its source.

The broadcast was loud and clear: “General quarters, general quarters, general quarters all hands man your battle stations…this is not a drill. I repeat this is not a drill.

I remember the rush I felt as I bolted into action and immediately grabbed my battle gear and proceeded to my station near the gun turret prepared to do my job and defend against the advancing enemy.

I was nineteen years old and had been advanced to the position of 2nd class Petty Officer leading 12 men on my team and in charge of maintaining the physical structures of 14 helicopters in our squadron. My superiors depended on me to get the job done and make sure that the men under my control kept ready to perform their duty no matter what.

We saw and could hear enemy planes approaching and readied for the attack. It was very intense and then I heard a familiar sound.

It was the harrowing sound of our F4 Phantom fighter jets (America’s most formidable and potent fighter aircraft at that time). They had been dispatched from one of our larger sister aircraft carriers and immediately met the Russian Bear jets that were rapidly approaching.

Suddenly, the enemy jets veered away and promptly left the area. All of the sailors aboard our ship (over 2 thousand) felt relief, for the moment, and returned to our assigned duties and resumed what we had to do.

We had just gone through one the number of crisis that was faced during that wartime period.

I grew up even more from that experience. The memory was like a scorching hot iron that emblazed within my mind the importance of leadership. What I was placed in charge of made a difference and lives could depend on my decisions and actions, especially in the time of war and crisis.

We lost some lives during that period and even buried one of our comrades at sea because that was his wish in the event of his death. I doubled down on leadership each time an event occurred that reminded me of the importance of what I did or did not do and the consequences either way.

Over the years, as I grew into more mature manhood, became a lawyer, a Pro Tem Judge, an entrepreneur, assistant pastor of a church, and held numerous other leadership positions, leadership and how to lead in crisis situations became second nature.

This article shares five (5) key points of what I’ve learned about leadership, whether in a crisis or not. A crisis simply heightens the need to use the skills of leadership at a crucial time.

1. Understand and embrace the fact that people want to be led

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People want to follow someone they can trust, someone they can believe in, and someone they are comfortable enough to have dinner with and get a sense of mutual respect and a feeling of empathy and acceptance for who they are and what they bring to the table.

No group accomplishes much if no one is in charge. When a crisis occurs people want direction more than ever. In such situations, a leader must be a go-to source for those he or she leads to soothing their fears and someone who has the power to do what they cannot. Leadership assumes part of the burden to help followers sleep at night.

People want to be and will follow leadership that gives them a vision and a feeling that what they do makes a difference.

I am reminded of a story I read about President John F. Kennedy when he visited NASA headquarters. During that visit, he was taken on a tour of Cape Canaveral, where he took the time to personally greet each person he passed.

He asked them what they did. The first person was a man in overalls and he responded with not much enthusiasm:

“I’m earning a living, Mr. President.” The second person responded to the question “I clear away the garbage Mr. President.” However, a third man had an engaging smile on his face and he replied “Mr. President, I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”

Effective leadership inspires and ignites followers to want to add value to a mission or vision and wake up every day feeling like they are making a difference.

Whether in a crisis or not, this is the type of leadership that makes a difference.

If you’re in charge be in charge.

2. Be decisive

A leader must be able to make quick decisions, especially in a crisis. Debate on whether the decision was the best to make at the time can occur after the decision but a decision must be made in a prompt and most effective manner as possible based upon the facts and circumstances that exist at the moment.

Wavering back and forth wastes time and loses the possibility of limiting any damage that might occur.

Every leadership decision is made with incomplete information. There is always more information that likely is available in a crisis. Don’t let that fact stop you from making a firm decision. Make it and adjust along the way, but make a decision and move forward.

Your followers are watching you and depending on you to lead them through the crisis. Being decisive instills more confidence in them and more trust in your leadership.

3. Define reality and give hope

Leaders can’t afford to be evasive if they want to be effective. People want reality and they can sense when truth and transparency are being avoided. Don’t fall into this trap.

During a crisis, the news is rarely good. A leader must outline reality in as calm a manner as possible and present it as a challenge to be met rather than a disaster that must be accepted and lived with.

Never make a promise that can’t be kept with certainty or without having a reasonable and solid basis for the promise not being kept due to circumstances beyond control.

Make promises that inspire and spark action that gets through the crisis and then do whatever it takes to over perform on the promise. This solidifies leadership and creates an army of followers that will march through hell to accomplish what is necessary for the mission to be successful.

4. You must tell the truth period!

Truth is crucial for effective leadership and especially in a crisis situation. Nothing can destroy trust and respect more than a lack of truth from a leader. Tell the truth at all cost.

I’ve found truth to be a pillar of the foundation of leadership. Great leaders and philosophers would agree.

“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.” –Abraham Lincoln.

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth” — Buddha.

5. Accountability is a must for effective leadership

Accountability is accepting responsibility for one’s actions and being willing to take responsibility for any outcome of the choices a leader makes.

The benefits of accountability in leadership are it builds trust and respect. When followers know their leader will take responsibility for his or her decisions it creates a high level of confidence in them. It also helps to create a culture of accountability that others can accept and model.

Overall, accountability strengthens relationships. This opens up dialogues where followers of a leader can feel comfortable discussing issues of concern without feeling vulnerable to attack and criticism. This also leads to the lessening of the likelihood of mistakes.


Crisis in life is going to happen. It may occur within a family, operating a business, leading employees, or in a war zone fighting an enemy. It will happen.

However, there are some fundamentals of leadership that will help meet the challenge of any crisis and solidify the team members of that family, business, or whatever organization might be facing the crisis.

There are five core leadership principles that once grasped, understood, and applied can overcome any crisis and accomplish the mission at hand.

(1)people want to be led; (2) be decisive (3) define reality and give hope (4) tell the truth, and (5) be accountable for the decisions that you make.

Take these five (5) leadership principles and apply them in your life and see the difference. Your life will be enhanced.




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Roy Landers

Roy Landers

Business attorney, entrepreneur, content marketer, and published author. I help you communicate your marketing message and generate sales. www.landerslaw.com

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