Leading in times of crisis

by Peter Liepolt, 27.03.2020

Leading in times of crisis

by Peter Liepolt, 27.03.2020

Peter LiepoltHead of Leadership Management


One of the key expectations employees have of managers is “presence”. Presence also means physical presence in times of crisis: when there is a fire, the boss must be on the spot, setting an example and outlining the way. Because in times of crisis, employees are also insecure. In many conversations with customers, business partners and my private environment, I hear that many employees want more leadership in this unsettling “corona time” – even in pluralistic organizations whose culture is characterized by personal responsibility. In doing so, they are concerned with many questions: How do I behave? Do we cancel appointments with customers? Should I work from home? Do I have to or should I let someone know if there is a suspicious case with a customer? And who do I tell and who do I actually ask?

Times of crisis have it in themselves that it is not easy to make the right decisions. This is inherent in the system, so to speak. But here and now it is important to show presence and reduce uncertainty. It is not so important to be physically present, but rather to find the right words in a group call or even by e-mail – and thus to be present. Here are my tips for managers in times of crisis:

#1 Be realistic and adjust costs and structures

Every day, every hour, sometimes even every minute the situation is changing. Last week, “disproportionate measures” were still being discussed. Today borders and airports are closed, in some countries there is a curfew.

All those born in Germany after the Second World War have never experienced such a situation. Managers must face reality immediately and quickly. Waiting out the crisis and waiting for the infection figures to die down is grossly negligent. Managers must follow developments closely and promptly and optimize cost structures. Cash management is of existential importance especially now. Check critically and honestly in which projects there are cancellations, failures or postponements on the part of customers or on the part of employees providing services and reassess the situation daily.

#2 Be present, communicate transparently and provide clarity

When it burns, the boss has to be on site. This formula of leadership does not make sense in these infectious times in its originally conceived sense. Today in 2020, however, it is possible to be present. Skype, teams, group calls, video messages and phone calls provide the feeling that the boss is present. The desire for the presence of the leader arises from the fear and uncertainty of how to properly deal with the unknown situation.

No one expects leaders to suddenly be an epidemic or pandemic expert. However, employees expect clear instructions as to what to do or not to do within the uncertainty.

It’s not time to panic, even when sales break away. But there is nothing to gloss over. It is clear to everyone that these are special times that require special activities and sometimes also lead to the need to act against one’s own value system (e.g. freedom versus “stay at home”).

Explain what actions have priority now, what the plan is, and what goals they are derived from. But also exude confidence. Two weeks ago, I had gathered a dozen executives from a medium-sized, owner-managed company for a seminar. Parallel to the seminar, events were overblown with regard to bans, cancellations of events, behavior and injunctions by authorities and customers.

The owner and the management were on site at the company all day, informed each other, exchanged ideas with business partners, held discussions with customers, derived measures and revised processes, structures and processes. While a colleague took over my afternoon part as a speaker, we prepared the “Corona speech”.

At the end of the seminar on the second day, an information and address from the managing partner was given to the management team, which was exemplary: calm, not euphemistic, clear in the statement (“The situation is serious”), the measures, at the same time radiating confidence. He explained what guides him, namely, the concern for the health of the employees and the existence of the company. This made those involved, the employees, those affected, who are thus part of the solution. Although after two days of seminar with lots of information, self-reflection and exercises, the managing partner was able to take away uncertainty through his presence and empathetic approach and to take the second level of management along and to prepare for the communication with their employees in the coming days and to provide assistance.

In the last twenty years in which I have worked with entrepreneurs and executives, I have often seen many executives fall into a kind of shock rigidity in a crisis due to a loss of control. With its new work, leadership, communication and health management expertise, P3 Performance is the right partner for companies and organizations when it comes to managing and emerging from times of crisis.

Head of Leadership Consultancy

#3 Chances: taking advantage of opportunities

We live in a VUCA world! The general conditions that management is currently facing are extremely volatile.

Situations change at a rapid pace, a multitude of unknowns complicate day-to-day business and complex decisions have to be made. Especially in times of crisis like now, vigilance, an eye for the acute support of our customers, adaptability, speed and the courage to take innovative entrepreneurial action are required.

Best Practice: An important part of the P3 Performance’s portfolio is Roll Out & Empowerment. Among other things, we conduct in-house seminars on various topics worldwide. We have been using and offering digital solutions, remote formats, etc. for a long time. Now that physical presence with group events is not opportune, but the employees of our customers need to be further qualified, our solutions for remote seminars and workshops are increasingly being used.

In addition, we have set up our own studio with film and green wall technology at short notice. Our customers experience that new learning, just as P3 organizes it in addition to classic formats, is useful and effective even in special times like these. And it can be used sustainably even after the crisis to reduce travel expenses and to save travel time.
So, in the current phase, ask yourself the following questions even more than before:

What bottleneck do my customers currently have?
Do my existing customers need skills that I do not currently have (yet)?
And if so, where could I buy the skills in the short term and build it myself in the medium term?
Can I use my existing skills to address new markets (sectors, countries) (after the crisis)?
How will my customers start up their own business again when the crisis subsides and how can I be present with whom?
What services can be digitized and, if necessary, carried out remotely – so what do we learn from the home office work for our future business, our organization and our processes and structures.

#4 Maintaining a corporate image

Companies, organizations and societies have a communicative memory, which is part of the collective memory. The company’s behavior in times of crisis, represented by the executives, will remain in the minds of employees for many years to come. Especially in times of crisis, it is therefore important to act reliably, calmly and fairly. Executives need to be aware that now and here in the Corona crisis, the corporate image is substantially maintained and shaped for the future. Especially the top talents and top performers should pay more attention to the top talents and performers. In the future, as executives, they will be the multipliers and thus “corporate branding ambassadors”.


Your contact people

Peter LiepoltHead of Leadership Management