Navigating the COVID-19 Crisis

By Kate Lee

Actions to take now to help you lead through the COVID-19 crisis, navigate change, and emerge ready for the future.


While the impact and magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic vary depending on the sector, business model, and geography, we are all experiencing a crisis of momentous proportion. The sheer scale, disruption, and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic is overwhelming, devastating, and disorientating.


While the COVID-19 crisis is unlike any we have experienced, Eric J. McNulty, associate director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative at Harvard, and Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative at Harvard, offer a reminder that, like any crisis, this crisis will “[unfold] over an arc of time with a beginning, middle, and end.” And, as we navigate to not just to endure, but also to emerge from this crisis, McNulty and Marcus note that “[i]t is useful to think what distinguishes what wasis, and will be. There was a past of relative stability and predictability. There now is chaos and disruption. There will be … a different state.”


As the arc of the crisis unfolds, your critical priorities and responsibilities will be many and will change. You will need the support, trust, and mindshare of your people for your organization to emerge from the crisis ready to move forward. 

Do everything you can to make sure your people are taken care of

Take the time to ask how your people are doing and how you can help. Make sure your people have what they need to take care of themselves, their families, their teams, and clients.

Have empathy – it is the number one attribute of great leaders. Acknowledge that this is a challenging, stressful, and emotional time – one replete with grief. Share your own pain and stress. Yes, you want to be strong and optimistic for your people and your team, but to pretend that you are not also affected – distracted, uncertain, maybe afraid – is disingenuous,  Acknowledge that there are distractions and that productivity will be hard to maintain. One of our client leaders speaks of “present time anxiety;” if a person can’t acknowledge, and to some degree have their personal anxiety assuaged even temporarily, how can they be expected to perform at work?   Help your people feel supported and less alone.  In doing so, you can improve trust, engagement, collaboration, and morale and help to reduce stress.

Communicate – a lot

As you communicate with your people throughout the arc of the crisis you will build the strength of your organization. When leaders fail to communicate, their teams and the organization will spend their time trying to figure out what is going on, rather than focusing on the present and what needs to be done.  Establish a regular cadence and ensure communication is transparent.  Be clear about what you know, what you don’t know, what is being done, and what plans have been put in place to get more done. Don’t just talk, or project; make sure you are available and committed to listening. Give people permission, beyond “my door is always open.” By being transparent, you can help align your organization with the current situation and the path forward.

While the chaos, disruption, and uncertainty we are feeling now, may seem perpetual, we will climb the arc of the crisis and we will come down the other side.

Here are some of the actions to take now to help you lead through the crisis, navigate change, and emerge ready for the future.

Help Your Clients

Now is the time to reach out to your clients, current, and past, and ask how they are doing – both personally and professionally. Adopt a “service mentality.” Let your clients know that you are there for them and, most importantly, ask “how can I help?” If you have observations or recommendations that you believe could help, offer a perspective. Take the long view with your clients, be genuine, and be compassionate. As with your people, establish a regular cadence of communication and check in often.

Diagnose the current state

To move forward, you first need to identify where you stand right now.

Take stock of the current state of your business, your clients, your organization, and your finances. Look at your strategy, planned initiatives, and key processes. Do these still make sense? What about your business model? What are your critical issues? Market realities? Will current roles and responsibilities allow you to meet the demands (or lack therefore) created by the crisis?

Survey your leadership team to get the pulse of the organization and to identify immediate issues, and issues that will soon need to be addressed. This will not only inform actions that are necessary but will also provide feedback on the mindset of the organization.

As you take stock of your current state, identify areas of agreement and disagreement among the organization’s senior leaders.


Developing a plan, even if it needs to be modified or completed rebuilt down the road, is critical. In the absence of a plan, your organization will flounder or even fail.

Given the level of uncertainty, focus on the near-term. Where do you want to be in one month? Three months? A year from now? What do you need to do in order to get there? What do you need to stop doing? What steps can your organization take to innovate and outperform? Focus on the core and manage a reduced set of priorities. Things that were important two months ago are not as important today.

A plan will give you and your organization a direction in which to move, and the process of developing the plan will help to align the organization.

Align Your Organization

An aligned organization will have a much better chance of not just emerging from the crisis but also emerging from it stronger and ready for the future. An aligned organization can only come about from an aligned leadership team. Think of your work in terms of concentric rings. Focus on the key leaders and be explicit. Once you have an aligned leadership team, communicate the message to the organization.  Be clear about plans, priorities, and ownership,

Develop Leaders

Focus on developing your leaders and new leaders. New roles and responsibilities will emerge. Focus on developing skills and behaviors so your people and your leaders can be better in their roles and be better prepared to take on expanded roles. There are real opportunities in difficult times. Be thoughtful, but give them the opportunity to learn, to rise to the moment, and to surprise you.

When people feel like they are being developed and trained for bigger opportunities and new opportunities, retention improves, performance improves, and engagement increases, helping move organizations through change/crisis to transformation. today’s crisis can produce tomorrow’s leaders.

How can we help?

Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, we have been focused on the health and well-being of our people and our clients. Each day, we connect with leaders. We listen, we advise, and we ask – how can we help?

We have conducted effective, highly interactive virtual workshops with organizations across the United States, helping organizations to develop strategies to not just navigate the crisis, but to also build stronger teams and leaders so that they can outperform their competitors.

For nearly thirty years, we have worked side by side with our clients, helping them to navigate change, moving from strategy to execution, and uncovering the pivot points for transformation.

Right now, every organization is in a different place because of factors including its business model, industry, or geography. In this disruption, some organizations are thriving, some have successfully pivoted, some have failed, and others find themselves in a state of uncertainty. Each organization has its own unique needs, challenges, and opportunities.

How can we help?


We're looking forward to hearing from you!

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