At a time of crisis: Leaders emerge

Helen Green
Leadership Collaborator
Quest Leadership
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Musing on the never-ending challenge of running a household, a colleague recently propounded their steady-state theory of food shopping. Given all other conditions being equal; food consumed is replenished by new purchases, resulting in a steady stream of goods passing through the house which acts as an unchanging conduit for consumption.

A small amount of management may be required to ensure that people play their part in ordering or buying goods but the process continues largely unchanged. So much so that use of a loyalty card can result in the supermarket proactively prompting when a top up purchase is required, automating the process still further.

How many businesses operate in the same way, with products and services flowing from suppliers and employees and on to customers in a never-ending stream? There might be a need for a small amount of management, a steady hand at the leadership tiller to keep the business on track, but little else. And there are some who excel at this type of leadership, who not only know what is required to keep the process flowing but also when it’s best to step back and when to intervene.

However, we don’t live in a universe which is heading towards stasis and a steady-state can only last for so long. Sooner or later there is a need for change and that requires a different type of leadership. Rather, it requires many different types of leadership, depending on the nature of the change. For example, planned change in response to a strategy revision is a very different being from change imposed by crisis.

Even here, leadership attributes and abilities may well vary depending on the nature of the crisis. For example, extreme weather events may throw up one set of challenges, changed trading conditions following Brexit another. And that’s before you take account of other factors such as strikes, supply problems, or the forthcoming winter flu season which the NHS is predicting will be particularly severe.

Now I’m not saying that the same person can’t lead in all situations, but when the going gets tough a different type of leadership is required and sometimes that takes a different type of leader. And that’s not surprising. People are individuals with their own particular ability and value sets. They hold some things as being more important than others and so will respond in different situations.

Often it is their sense of personal values and purpose that stimulates action - ‘I need to step up and do something here!’ And often it is that fight or flight response which is part of our own individual make up that stimulates us to take positive action or to hold back. In fact it is not unusual to find that people who tend to sit quietly in the background when things are going smoothly are able to step up and take quiet, yet decisive, command in a crisis; whilst those who are more forward in their day-to-day leadership find it harder to adjust when a crisis strikes.

Because there is no one typical crisis, there is no one set response. However, there are a few areas which can make all the difference in crisis management. First among these is communication. Being able to really listen and ask searching questions helps leaders to quickly grasp the nature of the problem; an important first step in formulating a response. Decision-making skills come into play here, particularly if there is limited time in which to consider all the options. Then communication skills come back into play in disseminating a clarity of vision which helps everyone to understand their part in resolving the crisis.

Steady-state is all very well but, whether it’s an unexpected visit from friends which puts a strain on food resources or a winter storm which cuts off communication links to the business, it is at a time of crisis when leadership comes to the fore. Fight or flight notwithstanding, perhaps it’s time that we all brushed up on our decision-making, understanding and communication skills. We never know when they may come in handy!

About Helen Green

Helen Green

Helen is a collaborator, a deadline demon and a diplomat.  She is often described by her colleagues and clients as the glue in their projects.  She can be contacted via or E-mail: [email protected]

After a degree in Hotel & Catering Management at Surrey University, she worked for 10 years with Whitbread, Bass and the Forte Group, gaining broad business experience in operations, communications, senior management and franchising.  This eclectic experience reinforced Helen’s belief in the untapped potential in people and the importance of strong values in business and has formed the foundations of her subsequent career.

Helen worked for 10 years in business consulting with Tom Peters Company, as senior consultant and Partner, before co-founding Quest Leadership in 2007.

During her consulting career, Helen has worked at all levels, with individuals and teams, to initiate and facilitate personal development.  Recent clients include: LSG Skychefs, Aim Aviation, Leica Geosystems, Texas Instruments, EnOcean, Gripple Ltd..

Helen’s competitive streak has driven her to compete at county level in badminton, and squash and equestrian eventing. Helen’s non-work interests centre on family, friends, cooking and sport.


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