Leading in a crisis is different to leading at other times.

'When something unpredictable happens, a different kind of leadership is required. Times of crisis are challenging and complex, with change fast paced. A crisis can be defined as ‘an upset in a steady state, a moment where our usual coping resources are overwhelmed and we are forced by circumstance into developing new ways of coping.'

Thompson, N (2002) Loss and Grief: A Guide for Human Services Practitioners. Basingstoke, Palgrave

Peoples’ emotions are heightened and some may feel a loss of control with what is happening around them. A good leader is able to recognise this and balance their leadership and management capability to support others to move through the crisis. Often at these times, leaders manage too much at the expense of leading well and this should be acknowledged and behaviours changed.

The emphasis placed on specific leadership capability in each situation will be different. Six leadership capabilities are promoted in Scotland’s social services and these are:

  • vision
  • motivating and inspiring
  • collaborating and influencing
  • empowering
  • self-leadership
  • creativity and innovation.

Each has a specific role to play in leading in a crisis. Click on the PDF to learn more:

Good leaders cannot do everything alone, they must rely on others for support which relies on them recognising and enabling others to use their own leadership capability to move forward.

This resource provides links to guidance and learning resources that will support those leading and supporting others in crisis situations. Other leadership resources can be found on Step into Leadership.

Your leadership in a crisis

How you use your leadership capability in a crisis will depend on:

  • what is required
  • who you have to support you
  • what your and their leadership strengths are.

Good leaders reflect on their own leadership capability in a crisis and acknowledge where and how they need help and support from others. They are able to use and manage their emotions in a positive way, sometimes referred to as emotional intelligence. This allows them to support the wellbeing of others. It is important that they acknowledge the effect the crisis is having on themselves and identify strategies for managing this.

Good leaders acknowledge the crisis, manage it and any impact, support others, and are realistic about what is happening and may continue to happen. They also encourage people to look forward and see a way out of the crisis.

Crisis situations require creativity and some people are better at this than others. A good leader recognises this and draws on the creativity of those around them to identify solutions to problems that emerge. Different risks may arise in a crisis situation and a good leader works with others to manage these well.

There are a range of resources which support you to reflect on the type of leadership required in a crisis and how that relates to you.

The importance of compassion in good leadership has been well-documented and is especially important in times of crisis.

An NHS Wales playlist of materials developed by the Kings Fund.

The King’s Fund blog highlights why compassionate leadership is especially important during a time of crisis

A BBC article exploring what makes a good leader during a crisis and the importance of honesty and compassion

How you use your leadership capability in a crisis situation will be different to other situations.

A document that reports on and evaluates the Peer Support and Reflective Practice Sessions and the “Leading in a Crisis” workshops commissioned by the Scottish Government.

A set of resources developed by the King’s Fund, to support leaders in the NHS, social care, public health or the voluntary and independent sector lead through the COVID-19 pandemic.

An article from McKinsey and Company which reflects on the behaviour required of leaders to lead well in a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic

A blog from Collective Leadership for Scotland which provides different perspectives and reflections on leading and working in a crisis situation

An article on how to lead through a crisis, by the Center for Creative Leadership

It is important to spend some time reflecting on self-leadership, resilience and wellbeing during uncertain times. Self-leadership is about recognising your own leadership skills and ability, and taking responsibility for using and developing these.

The SSSC’s 23 Things Leadership resource provides 23 leadership learning activities to support people involved with social services and health in Scotland reflect on their leadership capability and how they use it in practice. They include:

The SSSC, Iriss and Social Work Scotland resilience resources for social work and social care workers makes reference to a range of resources designed to support the development of individual and organisational resilience.

The National Wellbeing Hub, set up for people working in health and social care in Scotland, provides a range of resources to support peoples’ wellbeing during the COVID-19 crisis. It includes resources to support managers be good leaders during the pandemic.

Supporting others in a crisis

A leader relies on those around them to work well together in a crisis.

It is easy for people to become overwhelmed and demotivated in a crisis situation. The role of leaders in motivating and inspiring at times like these is a sensitive one which requires balance. Good leaders will enable those around them to support others and lead and manage different aspects of the crisis. They will think carefully about the best people to do this in terms of capability, capacity and their own motivation. Supporting people to acknowledge, develop and use their own leadership capability is vitally important.

Teams should use their collective leadership capability to encourage and support others to develop and adopt a different way of doing things, if only for a temporary period. Effective communication is crucial if collaboration is to be successful.

Supporting the wellbeing, acceptance and respect of people in a crisis is paramount and a key role for any leader. Supervision has a critical role to play in a crisis situation. Additional reflective support and learning activities such as coaching may also be useful.

It’s important to support workers, people who use services and carers to recognise and use their own leadership capability. This will include how people can use collective leadership to support each other, as illustrated here by the Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership who remind us that whilst tough times don’t last, tough teams do.

Tough Times Don’t Last, Tough Teams Do.

Step into Leadership is a website which provides free resources to support people to develop their leadership skills.

The SSSC has published 23 Things Leadership which supports people in social services and health to reflect on and develop different aspects of their leadership capability.

Supporting people who use services and their carers to acknowledge and use their own leadership capability is a key role for any leader. Explore how you can promote citizen leadership with Thing 19 of 23 Things Leadership.

A range of resources to support self-leadership and well-being in health and social services, published by Project Lift.

Supervision is central to:

  • monitoring tasks and workload
  • solving problems
  • supporting workers in dealing with complex situations
  • moral and ethical dilemmas
  • promoting staff development.

It aims to provide accountability for both the supervisor and supervisee and has a focus on developing the supervisee in a way that is centred on achieving better outcomes for people who use services and their carers. It is especially important in a crisis situation when people may need more, or different, support.

Step into Leadership, has a range of resources to support good practice in supervision.

The National Wellbeing Hub, set up for people working in health and social care in Scotland, provides a range of resources to support peoples’ wellbeing during the COVID-19 crisis. It includes resources to support managers support their staff.

The Guide to Managing Your (Newly) Remote Workers from the Harvard Business Review provides an overview of some of the challenges of remote working and ways of overcoming these, including how to use supervision.

Mentoring can be an effective way of:

  • supporting individuals to embark on the kind of self-directed learning used in Step into Leadership
  • improving an individual's leadership skills
  • providing opportunities for reflection and development.

Guidance on developing mentoring in social services can be found in Step into Leadership.

At the heart of coaching is the belief that people already have the answers they need within themselves and what they need is to be enabled, through the coaching relationship, to find their solutions and use their skills.

Generally agreed characteristics of coaching are that it:

  • is essentially non-directive
  • focuses on improving performance and developing skills
  • ensures that related activities have both personal and organisational goals
  • is not counselling
  • provides feedback on strengths and areas for development
  • is a skilled activity which should be delivered by trained people.

A range of resources to support the use of coaching can be found in Step into Leadership.

Coaching for wellbeing is available to support people working in health and social services who have been adversely affected by COVID-19.

A PDF article from the International Coach Federation about the importance of coaching now.

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