How do you lead during a crisis

People are struggling to maintain a sense of community and connection in these times of crisis. 

Recently, one of my coaching clients asked how they could continue to support their team and maintain a healthy culture during COVID-19. While the majority of their team was coping well, they had a few team members who were struggling with anxiety and loneliness.

Your leadership will be tested the most during times of crisis. You’ll witness a variety of responses to crisis and trauma. Some people will continue their day-to-day operations seemingly unaffected. Some will experience anxiety, but will manage to maintain their sanity. And still others will be significantly affected, nearly paralyzed by fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. 

Back to our coaching conversation. When we dug in to explore was underneath the question, what emerged were themes of culture, community, and connection. 

Now, let me start by saying a lot of people think culture is created by your values. It’s not. Culture is created by and is a reflection of the behaviors you allow. Want proof? Look no further than Zenefits, Theranos, Uber, and WeWork. 

There’s a great six part series on the rise and fall of WeWork, called WeCrashed by Wondery. It’s “the story of hope and hubris, big money and bigger screwups, and the lengths people will go to chase ‘unicorns’”. Highly recommended.

You can wallpaper the office in inspirational messages and corporate value statements. But at the end of the day, it’s the behavior of the leadership team and what they allow from the staff that ultimately defines the culture. 

So, if culture is created by the behaviors you allow, what can you do to encourage those behaviors? Focus on the three Rs — recognition, rewards, and rituals. 


Recognize the contributions your staff is making and celebrate the wins (big and small). A lot of leaders recognize their teams’ accomplishments within the team. As a leader, part of your responsibility is to raise the visibility and awareness of your teams’ value beyond your own organization. So, make sure you recognize your team outside your organization. Celebrate the wins in a leadership Slack channel. Mention it at your next executive meeting. Share it on LinkedIn.


Rewards are an extension of recognition, but on a more individualized level. While monetary rewards are nice, studies show they’re short-lived. I’m not saying don’t give your team bonuses. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like extra cash. In addition to a cash bonus, give them something personal. Find out something they like to do, a place they like to go, a favorite food or beverage. Oh, and it’s amazing how much people appreciate a hand-written note. 


Rituals reinforce the culture you want to create. At IDEO, they have a ritual they call tea time. It goes something like this. Every Tuesday at 11:00am, people stop what they’re doing and come to the kitchen for a cup of tea, coffee, or beverage of choice. For the next 30 minutes they hang out and chat. The only rule — you can’t talk about work. It’s a chance to get to know people, on a personal level, beyond just colleagues on a project. 

Bill Campbell, who’s profiled in the book The Trillion Dollar Coach, taught Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt a tactic called trip reports. For a decade, Schmidt held weekly staff meetings at 1:00pm on Mondays. In many ways, they were pretty standard — agendas, check-ins, updates, etc. One thing that was different though was the use of trip reports. 

Schmidt would kick off the weekly staff meeting asking what everyone did over the weekend. If someone had recently returned from a trip, he asked them to give a trip report. Some of the stories his staff told were exhilarating and exciting, like Sergey Brin’s stories of kite-boarding. Others were more typical, like a kid’s soccer game. 

Now, you might think these trip reports were just informal, impromptu conversations. I assure you, they were not. In fact, they served two very important purposes. First, like tea time, they allowed people to get to know each other on a personal level, which improves relationships. And second, it got everyone involved in the meeting from the very beginning. Not to mention, it was fun. 

According to other Google executives, trip reports were a seemingly simple communication practice that got people to share personal stories, make personal connections, and ultimately, lead to making better decisions.


When leading through crisis, the outcome of the crisis won’t be what people remember, so much as how you lead. The ability to create connection and community is especially necessary in these times of global isolation.

How will you create connection, community, and a sense of safety? 

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