strategies for leading in a crisis

4 Strategies for Leading in a Crisis

There is little doubt that 2020 has caused the leadership landscape to shift dramatically and created a challenging environment for educators across Australia. This year has been one of unprecedented crisis with school leaders having to rapidly adapt their practices to meet the needs of their school communities. As the year comes to a close, there is an opportunity to reflect on your own response as a leader and embed the practices that worked into your ongoing leadership practice.
Joyce E. A. Russell describes the characteristics of effective leaders in crisis in her article Leading in Crisis. At Pivot, through our partnerships with more than 600 schools, we have seen how effective leadership can positively impact a school community in times of disruption. Whether it is implementing a strengths-based approach, over-communicating, eliciting feedback or taking the time to celebrate, the following strategies are ones we’ve seen support effective leadership responses to a crisis:

Implement a strengths-based approach:

When we are in a reactive mode, we tend to go back to our comfort zones. If you are organised naturally, you’ll be even more organised when things get tough. But it can mean the skills you have developed go underutilised in difficult times. Often in crisis situations the best thing you can do is to lean into your areas of strength while ensuring that your team has the opportunity to lean into their own areas of strength. 


We have all had the experience of how crisis breeds uncertainty and an increased appetite to be informed. When we don’t get reassurance and information, it can cause or exacerbate stress and anxiety. So in times of crisis, it is important to over-communicate and to share information with a wide (but appropriate) audience. Daily email updates or briefings are a great way to keep your team abreast of new information or approaches, which can mean considerably less stress and lead to higher productivity during a crisis. 

Elicit Feedback:

In disrupted times, the opportunity for spontaneous feedback decreases as normal routines are disrupted. Whether it be quick surveys like our Pulse Check or taking time each week to talk to a few teachers, students and parents about their experiences, creating a routine to elicit feedback in times of crisis will give your school community a voice and help drive your strategic decision-making. 

Take time to acknowledge and celebrate:

It’s important to celebrate the small wins and express gratitude for your team’s commitment. A strengths-based approach can boost your team’s morale, improve team dynamics and mitigate stress. We suggest making time to celebrate successes even when it feels like there isn’t enough space in the day. Something as simple as an email or a surprise meeting can bring your team closer together, so they feel supported to manage the crisis.
This year is unlike any other. However, it has been an opportunity for leaders across the world to grow. Strategies like these also work in normal times, but they take on a greater importance when stress and uncertainty rule. Whether it is during a pandemic or another crisis, we hope these strategies are useful to strengthen and grow your leadership practice.