Leading During a Crisis: Ensure Your Organization Survives COVID-19

Leadership is the most important thing right now for organizations. It doesn’t matter if you are a leader in a governmental organization, a non-profit, leading in the private sector, health care, or even a volunteer leader in a local club. Leadership during these rapidly changing times will be the difference between the organizations that thrive after COVID-19 runs its course and those that collapse during or shortly after things return to “normal”. 

The Corona Virus Pandemic is forcing leaders to rapidly implement changes in their organizations. Those who lead effective change will have advantages once the virus passes. Credit: Fusion Medical Animation from unsplash.com unsplash license 2020.

Change is inevitable. I have posted several blogs on leading change. Good leaders understand change is always happening and look to the future to ensure those they lead are ready when change happens. Most of the time that means change is gradual and like the hands on a clock, the changes are barely perceptible.  Sometimes, like the events surrounding the COVID-19 response, change is rapid and requires leaders to accelerate their leadership processes.

Joan Sweeney, Ph.D teaches there are five elements that need to be present for change to success fully happen. Those elements are vision, skills, motivation, resources, and plans (Sweeney, 2009). If any of these elements are missing effective change fails to happen. Whether you find yourself leading gradual change, rapid change, or in a crisis, you as a leader need to ensure each of these elements are in place to lead change.


Start by assessing the situation. A SWOT analysis is common method of assessing. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. There are plenty of documents, books, and websites discussing the subtleties of conducting SWOT analysis. If this is the first time you heard this term, head to your favorite search engine. I provide a short answer about what SWOT is here. Divide a sheet of paper into four quadrants.  Label each Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Individually or with your team identify each area. Ask the simple questions of, “What are our Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats?” Use these answers to work on the five elements of change.


Most leaders understand the need to have a vision. In times of crisis, the vision is not about the distant future. The vision is about the days, weeks, and months ahead. The vision shares with your stakeholders your view of how the organization navigates the turbulent waters of the crises, in this case getting through the COVID-19 Pandemic. This element is essential so examine your strengths and opportunities so others have hope.

Leaders ensure the organization has people with the necessary skills to implement change and the motivation to use those skills. Credit: Allie Smith from unsplash.com with an upnplash license 2020


Take a look at the skills you listed in your strengths. Determine how you can use them to address the threats posed by the situation to create opportunities. Include this assessment in your vision statement. Doing so provides hope which is the basis of motivation.


I learned on Jocko Podcast 207, that the root of the word motivation means to move (Willink, 2019). When you motivate others, you cause them to begin movement. To sustain movement, it is important for leaders to align resources with action plans. This alignment demonstrates to followers that the proposed action and change is both viable and attainable.


There is an old saying in the Army, “We the willing have done so much for so long we are now qualified to accomplish the impossible with nothing.” In times of crisis resources become scarce. If you have tried to by bathroom tissue or hand sanitizer in the last few days you know that is true in this current crisis. You may not be able to acquire the ideal resources is times of crisis so leaders need to be creative. What resources do you have that can be repurposed safely to accomplish the same thing? What resources can you obtain that come close to doing what you need done? What do you really need?

Leaders need to provide resources to implement change whether it is responding to Corona Virus or any other change in the organization. Photo by author.

In a TEDTalk in 2006, Tony Robbins encountered former Vice President Al Gore while discussing the importance of resourcefulness. He told the former VP that had he been more resourceful during the campaign he would not have needed to have his case heard by the Supreme Court. Rather he would have received an overwhelming number of votes to win the election without having to resort to a Supreme Court case. Leaders always have to figure out how to use the resources available to accomplish their organization’s mission.


Plans in crisis are important. Looking ahead and creating plans before crisis helps move that process along quicker. Even if you lack a plan for dealing with a pandemic, you probably have some emergency plans you can adapt. In the non-profit I run, we have plans to continue operations in the event of a disaster like the building burning down or other cataclysmic events. We did not have one for dealing with COVID-19. As the crisis escalated, I found it easy to re-examine our emergency plans and take relevant parts, piece them together to develop a plan that, so far, ensured we were available and able to continue to provide services to our clients.  Planning occurs rapidly in a crisis. Your plan must support your vision. You need to communicate so everyone remains motivated to apply their skills to overcome the crisis. The plan must include how to use existing resources and how you will find other resources necessary to survive the crisis.  Your plan does not have to be perfect.  Theodore Roosevelt said,

In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The next best thing is the wrong thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.


In this current crisis, leadership is critical to meet the changes required for organizations to survive.  Leaders must ensure they communicate a vision, coordinate the skills of stake holders, provide motivation and resources, and create a plan that effectively coordinates the actions of the organization. Leaders everywhere are faced with important decisions during this pandemic. Following the basic principles of change management will ensure your organization prepares and responds effectively to this crisis and emerges ready for the future as things subside.


Robbins, T (2006). Why we do what we do. TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/tony_robbins_why_we_do_what_we_do 3/18/2020

Roosevelt, T (n.d.). Unknown publication. retrieved from https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/theodore_roosevelt_403358 3/18/2020.

Sweeney, J. (2009). Organizational culture and change management. Command Training Series: Executive Development Course. Bristol, RI: New England Asc. of Chiefs of Police, Roger Williams University.

St. Cyr, C. (2019). Leading change. Little Leadership Lessons. Blog. available at https://saintcyrtraining.com/2019/07/

Willink, J (2019). Podcast 207: Live a life worth fighting For. Medal of honor recipient, Kyle Carpenter. Jocko Podcast. retrieved from https://jockopodcast.com/2019/12/11/207-live-a-life-worth-fighting-for-medal-of-honor-recipient-kyle-carpenter/ 3/18/2020.

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