Leading in crisis

Preparation, trust, purpose

CEOs accept crisis management as part of the job — and most understand that crisis is inevitable. In fact, nearly 70% of business leaders in PwC’s Global Crisis Survey 2019 had experienced a crisis during the previous five years.

But then the COVID-19 pandemic erupted across the globe, testing the abilities of executives in new, unpredictable ways.

Strong leadership is perhaps the most essential ingredient in surviving a serious crisis. And the key to being a strong leader during disruption is preparation.

71% of organisations believe that their leadership teams have been thoughtful in their decision-making processes through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Source: PwC’s Global Crisis Survey 2021

What makes a strong leader during a crisis?

Empathy: Effective leaders put themselves in the shoes of their customers, stakeholders and workforce. What are they going through as the crisis evolves? How can a leader mitigate negative impacts and enhance potential opportunities?

Clarity: A strategic, thorough crisis management plan provides a guide for an organisation’s response. With a clear roadmap delineating roles, responsibilities and the tools, resources and methodologies available, a strong leader is able to move swiftly and decisively to address the crisis. 

Purpose: Grounded by a distinctive purpose and clearly defined guiding principles, an organisation has a focal point to govern its strategy and overall operations. A strong business leader keeps those principles and purpose in mind 24/7 — particularly during a crisis, as a guide for all aspects of the organisation’s response.

Lessons learned: Today’s effective business leaders learn as much from the mistakes and missed opportunities of crises and disruptions as from successes, and incorporate those lessons into their crisis management strategy.

Building trust to lead through a crisis

In the thick of a crisis situation, it’s not always easy to know whether decisions are the right ones. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, many organisations quickly converted to remote work. Others halted all travel.

As the situation evolved, it became clear that those tactics likely helped protect workers. But in the chaotic early days of 2020, it wasn’t entirely obvious that they were the right calls.

With a foundation of trust and a clear crisis strategy, a strong leader not only manages well through a crisis, but sets the stage for the organisation to thrive.

Guiding your organisation through a crisis

Preparation is key. As a leader, what can you do to make sure your organisation is in a strong position to weather a crisis?

Repair: Act quickly and intelligently Leaders must have the confidence to make decisions and act, and the humility to consult widely, recognise when they are wrong and adjust course.

Rethink: Design the present with the future in mind Leaders must be able to bridge the gap between the raw power of tech and the needs of people — and be as fluent with emotional intelligence as they are with artificial intelligence.

Reconfigure: Organise for the future Leaders must understand global forces, market structures and societal needs, and must be capable of expressing genuine care for and understanding of their local community.

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Contact us

Dave Stainback

Dave Stainback

Global Crisis & Resilience Co-Leader, PwC United States

Tel: +1 678 419 1355

Bobbie Ramsden-Knowles

Bobbie Ramsden-Knowles

Global Crisis & Resilience Co-Leader, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7483 422701