When s*** hits the fan: leading through a crisis — five things to do and what you definitely should NOT

It’s the kind of scenario that nightmares are made of (for managers). 

What do you do when a crisis hits your organisation, and the buck stops with you? It’s common for managers to spend their days settling disputes and putting out fires. 

But what if that fire is a raging, out-of-control bushfire, and of magnitude proportions? This is exactly what happened to Phil…

Phil’s story

“As the Director of a well established accounting firm, I never thought I’d be facing a crisis of this magnitude. It started with a few disgruntled employees posting negative reviews about our company culture online, which quickly snowballed into a full-blown PR nightmare.

The media picked up the story, and before I knew it, our company was making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Our once-loyal customers began to question their allegiance to us, and the floodgates opened with a wave of resignations from our employees.

As a leader, I started to question myself — had I missed something? Had I really thought we had a thriving culture and trustworthy employer brand, only to be blindsided?

I knew we had to act fast to salvage our reputation and stem the tide of bad publicity. I gathered my senior managers and we spent countless hours brainstorming and strategising, trying to come up with a plan to address the situation.

But the damage had already been done, and we were haemorrhaging money. Our stock prices plummeted, and we were forced to lay off dozens of employees in an effort to stay afloat.

The stress and pressure of the crisis weighed heavily on me, but I knew I had to stay strong for my team. I worked tirelessly to rebuild our company’s image and restore faith in our brand, even as the financial losses continued to mount.

Slowly but surely, our efforts paid off. The tide of negative press began to subside, and our customers and employees began to return to us. Our finances stabilised, and we were able to focus once again on growing and expanding our business.

Looking back on that difficult time, I realised that crisis management is one of the most important skills a leader can possess. It’s not just about weathering the storm, but also about learning from it and coming out a more resilient leader on the other side.”


Phil’s story is reflective of some of the serious issues managers and leaders face in business. 

If you’re facing a crisis in your business that involves your people, here are a few things you can do.

  1. Act quickly and decisively

When a crisis hits, time is of the essence. Phil acted quickly and decisively to identify the root cause of the problem and develop a plan of action to address it. He immediately assembled a crisis management team to coordinate the response and ensure that everyone was on the same page.

  1. Communicate clearly and honestly 

One of the most important things when dealing with a crisis is to communicate clearly and honestly with employees, customers, and stakeholders. Remain transparent about the situation, acknowledge any mistakes that were made and outline the steps being taken to fix the problem. This can help to build trust and credibility with those affected by the crisis.

  1. Take responsibility

It’s important for leaders to take responsibility when things go wrong. Phil accepted responsibility for any mistakes that were made and apologised to those affected by the crisis. This demonstrated accountability and helped to rebuild trust.

  1. Empower employees

During a crisis, it’s important to empower employees to take action and contribute to the solution. Phil encouraged employees to share their ideas and suggestions for how to address the crisis. This helped to build a sense of ownership and engagement among employees while gaining insight into what was causing disgruntlement in the first place.

  1. Learn from the experience

Once the crisis had passed, Phil took the time to reflect on what had happened and learn from the experience. He conducted a post-mortem analysis to identify areas for improvement and develop a plan to prevent similar crises from occurring in the future. This demonstrated a commitment to continuous improvement and helped to build resilience for the organisation.

Things not to do in a crisis…

In a crisis, a leader must remain calm and collected to be able to navigate the situation effectively. To panic or act impulsively, can cause further chaos and confusion. Particularly pivotal in a crisis, a leader should not hide or withhold information, as transparency is crucial for building trust and credibility with stakeholders. 

Despite the magnitude of an issue, playing the blame game or pointing fingers can create a negative and divisive morale, making any effort of peacemaking, merely impossible. As crises create heightened emotions, a leader should not ignore the emotional needs of their team or stakeholders. Address the emotionality behind the crisis first. A good leader in a crisis should prioritise clear communication, strategic decision-making, and compassionate leadership.