Career Connection

Develop your crisis leadership skills to motivate others amid chaos

You can learn “charismatic/crisis-response” leadership characteristics to help your people continue their jobs without wavering. Crisis leadership requires intensely focused, committed actions to try to eliminate uncertainty, fear, panic and chaos.



In normal circumstances, we can think of leadership as the daily management of micro-crisis incidents. Leaders often resolve issues and problems quickly or delegate them to others for resolution. However, in larger moments, such as war, natural disasters or pandemics, crisis leadership demands the expression of a unifying vision of mythic proportions because leaders must focus their efforts on returning everyday life to a sense of normalcy.

Crisis leadership requires intensely focused, committed actions to try to eliminate uncertainty, fear, panic and chaos.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created that chaotic atmosphere. Leaders of nations and corporations attempt to sort out priorities to protect citizens, public health systems and the global economy.

Crisis leadership differs from everyday forms of leadership (such as visionary leadership and reform leadership) in many ways — particularly the sudden threat to prioritized goals and objectives. When life, liberty or property are in jeopardy, all other considerations become secondary. These “black swan” events, which are characterized by extreme rarity, severe impact and the later insistence by all they were obvious in hindsight, can elevate leaders’ statures and statuses if the helpless, confused and lost turn to them for assurance.

In such times, leaders invoke powerful rhetorical messaging to help bring some sense of stability, balance and control. Such instances can precipitate “charismatic leadership,” also referred to as “crisis-response leadership.” (See “The Bass Handbook of Leadership: Theory, Research, & Managerial Applications,” by Bernard M. Bass with Ruth Bass, Free Press, 2010.)


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