John Manlove
Gina Manlove

How to Lead in a Crisis

Posted on May 6, 2020

How to Lead in a Crisis

The real test of leadership, and the heartbeat of an organization, is most visible during a crisis. The way the organization behaves and responds during a crisis is a direct reflection of its leadership. Each crisis is unique, and success is in the details.

Over the years, we have served clients in both public and private industries. JMMC has established and provided Crisis Communications Plans for clients to implement, but each crisis presents its own problems and opportunities. Each crisis requires strategic, creative approaches. We have seen over and over, the unpredictable nature of a crisis can leave organizational leaders intimidated.

Each crisis is unique for that organization, but there are also many case studies that we can point to, and learn from, that had similar circumstances. We’re not minimizing each individual crisis, but we must provide AS LEADERS the RIGHT PERSPECTIVE. A quick web search will reveal many success stories and failures during a time of crisis, and we can glean a few key takeaways from them all.

Defining Crisis:

English dictionary: …an intense time of difficulty …

Greek definition: …requiring a difficult or important decision…

Medical definition: …….that will provide a turning point…

A crisis is an intense time of difficulty, requiring a difficult or important decision that will provide a turning point.

A crisis is a distraction and confuses our priorities and stalls our progress. If an organization doesn’t already have corporate alignment and protocols in place, this can cause exponential havoc in the organization during a crisis. To address this problem, below are a few important guidelines:








Put agendas aside and put people first. Highlighting what you are doing as an organization, and weaving in core value messages in your communications is not self-serving or “manipulating the public”. Well-crafted messages should be made to motivate your employees, customers, and other important stakeholders. These messages should also encourage them, serve them, and add value to people who are also facing or being impacted by the crisis. It provides traction during distraction. A leader has to give people hope, and now more than ever, employees need someone they can rely on and have confidence in every day, but especially during a crisis.



Leaders must educate themselves on the crisis from reputable sources and lean on experts to provide factual information. Without truly understanding all the intricacies of the crisis, a leader in an organization cannot successfully lead or control the chaos. Organizational leaders need a viable plan, to have an objective review of facts, a qualified team, provide delegation of authority, consistent internal and external communication, to be forward-thinking, and adaptable. Choices can make or break a leader and during a crisis, organizations have to act quickly but also deliberately.



COVID-19 is the perfect storm and distraction. Fear is spreading faster than the virus, which underscores the importance of authentic and consistent communications. In these situations, companies are often fearful they don’t have perfect messaging but the important thing to remember is just to be authentic, use everyday language, and stay away from industry jargon. It’s okay to show emotion when appropriate, we are all human.

Due to misinformation, media spinning stories, and social media pushing out false news, it is during these times that it is more important than ever for organizations to articulate their story first and with the most honest delivery. You can only control so much, and messaging can be controlled, so it’s critical that you protect your truth and your brand’s story. Crisis doesn’t make us, it reveals us.



Many times, a crisis can also provide an opportunity to solve problems. If you look at the companies succeeding right now it’s those that are stepping up to provide solutions that are being hailed as the “leaders.” To have a forward-thinking approach to the crisis requires flexibility. For example, one of our clients Gulf Coast Distillery, the largest distillery in Texas, announced the emergency repurposing all of the firm’s production and bottling lines, for the manufacturing of hand sanitizer, to meet the extraordinary community demands generated by the COVID-19 crisis.

In the few weeks of the COVID-19 crisis, Gulf Coast Distillers had donated $205,000 worth of C4U Hand Sanitizer to first responders (policemen, firemen, ambulance staff), nonprofits, and the community. In addition, over 80,000 gallons of C4U Hand Sanitizer had been shipped nationwide, prioritizing the Houston community, to address the dire situation to help combat and defeat this COVID-19 pandemic. Gulf Coast Distillers is not stopping here, every day they are producing thousands of gallons of sanitizer to keep supporting communities and supplying first responders, doctors, medical professionals, and others on the frontlines.



Crises like the one we are in now require adaptability. There are few situations where we are required to make quick and difficult decisions on the fly, and in most cases, these decisions won’t make everyone happy. There is often no time to waste, and leaders that act in a decisive way, while adapting their approach to suit the needs of those they are leading, and address the immediate situation, weather the storm much better than leaders that choose silence or retreat.