By Veronica Emilia Nuzzolo, MBA, MAOP

Organizations experience times of crisis.  During a crisis situation leadership is expected to guide and continue to move the organization forward.  The expectations of  leaders change during a crisis.

Non-Crisis Roles and Expectations of a Leaderleader

Leadership is influence and occurs among people who desire change.  The change reflects purposes shared by both leaders and followers.  Leaders keep organizations running on an even keel.  The role of a leader is to maintain stability in an ever-changing environment (i).  Leadership essentials in time of non-crisis consist of facilitating and managing change.  Leaders must possess communication, coaching, and conflict resolution skills. These skills are used daily to create positive and productive work environments.  Other leadership expectations consist of the roles that leaders assume figurehead, leader, and liaison.  The importance of these roles includes team building and creating long-term relationships between leader and follower (ii).

The roles and expectations of a leader stem far beyond superior/subordinate relationships.  Daily expectations include respect, integrity, motivation, and adaptability.  Leadership roles and expectations involve continued building and improving of relationships that will further empower and continue to develop leaders and followers alike. The role and expectations of leaders during stable periods should also include pre-crisis planning.  This strategic planning enables leaders to make sound business decisions during crisis situations.  Many aspects of crisis must be taken into consideration.  Issues such as violence in the workplace, theft of company property, and even catastrophic external events must be considered as risk factors for crisis situations.

Preparing for Crisis in Leadership

A major function of leadership is the ability to deal with crisis.  A crisis is an event that could not be predicted or anticipated prior to the situation making crisis situations impossible to avoid.  A crisis within an organization can be economically devastating creating adverse effects on stock prices and operating costs. If not managed properly a crisis can bankrupt an organization and that leaders must possess the skills necessary to manage successfully in a crisis situation.  In today’s rapidly changing environment organizations are taking proactive measures by strategically preparing crisis management contingency plans. Organizations need to ensure that they are taking appropriate measures to enable immediate response to crisis.  This strategic planning consists of three tactics, environmental monitoring to identify events that could trigger crisis, integrating crisis management into the strategic process so that crisis management remains part of the strategy evaluation process, and educating and establishing an organizational culture that is aware of crisis management processes.

Organizational Criteria of Crisis and Determining Crisis Resolution

Organizational crisis has been identified as a low-probability, high-impact event that threatens the viability of the organization characterized by ambiguity of cause, effect, and means of resolution (ii).  In addition a crisis can be described as any event that disrupts the entire organization. During this period the organizations employees will feel extra ordinary pressure that will affect organizational systems and resources. Organizations may feel that every problem is a crisis.  Understanding what constitutes a detrimental crisis will help to determine what strategic planning should be implemented to prevent further escalation of the problem.  Determining if the crisis is caused by internal or external events is critical in implementing a crisis resolution strategy.

Internal and external crisis can be described as locus of control (iii).  If an organization is destroyed by a tornado the locus of control would be external, and it is imperative that the appropriate communication strategies are used so that the stakeholders and the public understand that the crisis was external and beyond the organizations control.  If this same organization failed to have appropriate disaster insurance then the locus of control would be considered internal.  This new scenario would require a different communication strategy and different strategic planning.  This issue could be referred to as “controllability.”  The organization cannot control the weather but can be diligent in stabilizing the organization after the fact.  When employees begin to experience stabilization and normalcy in the workplace leaders will communicate this information indicating that the crisis has passed.  An organizational crisis can pose a threat to the organizations reputation.  When determining that a crisis has passed the organization must ensure that the organizations reputation has not been damaged and that the stakeholders and employees reaction to the crisis has stabilized.  To achieve this goal leaders’ must communicate this information expediently and accurately.

The Role and Expectations of a Leader During Times of Crisis

The roles and expectations of leaders change dramatically in times of crisis.  Assuming the role of strategic leader is a valuable of component when trying to achieve positive outcomes in times of crisis.  In the event of a crisis situation the greatest change for a leader is the ability to respond.  Responding immediately with fact will help preserve the reputation and credibility of the organization.

Strategic leaders have the ability to monitor the organizations internal and external environments.  The responsibility of a leader during a crisis situation consists of building and strengthening company resources and capabilities, tracking industry and competitor trends, and to identify business threats.  These key factors are considered critical for an organizations adaptability and success during disruption. Employees will look to his or her superior for direction and instruction during a crisis situation.  Leaders must be prepared to stay engaged and keep business operations functioning.  Leaders must stay calm, listen, be visible, and honest.  The most important role of the leader during crisis is the ability to make swift and sound decisions and to never give in.  Leaders should never abandon all hope for saving the company.  The most important aspect of leadership during crisis is to maintain the organizations mission, vision and image, and retain stakeholder, employee, and public confidence.

Re-establishing Daily Practices

When the crisis has passed, it is imperative that leaders can conduct business as usual.  Leaders effectively can return to non-crisis mode by educating all employees on the outcomes of the crisis and turn the crisis into a learning experience for all members of the organization.  Returning to normalcy requires communication and dedication on behalf of the leader. Turning the negative event into a positive growth and learning experience serves several purposes.  Employees at all levels should evaluate his or her knowledge of crisis management, evaluate the effectiveness of crisis management, learn from the experience, and proceed to move the organization forward (iv).  The use of a third party to evaluate and analyze the effectiveness of the crisis management team and how the organization can avoid repeating same internal crises is encouraged (i).  In the event of an external crisis the organization can benefit by learning how to do a better job in the future if faced with a re-occurrence of crisis.


Today more than ever before is a need for leaders to understand and possess the skills and competencies to lead during times of crisis.  The greatest skill a leader can possess during a crisis situation is the ability to “get the awful truth out.” (i,p. 285).  Employees need to “buy in” they need to understand the situation, the message, and with today’s technological advances and rapid changing climates a leaders’ greatest achievement during crisis is possessing the ability to continue to communicate a vision for the future during times of distress.

Veronica Emilia Nuzzolo, MED, MAOP


(i) Daft, R. L. (2011). The leadership experience (5th ed.). Mason, OH: Thomson, South-Western.
(ii) Lussier, R. N., & Achua, C. F. (2010). Leadership: Theory, application & skill development. Mason: Cengage Learning.
(iii) Wilson, S. R., Cruz, M. G., Marshall, L. J., & Rao, N. (1993). An attribution analysis of compliance-gaining interactions. Communication Monographs, 60, 352-372.
(iv) Cameron, E., & Green, M., (2009). Making sense of change management (2nd.ed). London, U.K

How to cite this article:
Nuzzolo, V. E., (2016).  Leadership Through Crisis.  Retrieved from,