Strong leadership is always important, and it is especially important in times of crisis. Leaders set themselves apart when they use their head and heart to respond, communicate and connect. While this may not be a natural style for everyone, it is a critical skill that any leader can learn with good coaching and practice. Responding to a crisis with clarity, empathy and confidence is key to maintaining business continuity and successfully moving through the four phases of crisis management:


Four-Phase Crisis Management Roadmap


Identify likely crises and prepare a plan for managing them


Activate the crisis management plan with timely, consistent and authentic communication


Take time to understand how expectations have changed and what is needed to move forward


Move the business forward with confidence for sustained growth


Following are practices that will help leaders maintain and deepen trust and protect their business in a crisis.

Communicate Consistently

One of the biggest mistakes leaders in crisis can make is staying silent or going into hiding. These actions will immediately lead to suspicion and loss of trust. Instead, move quickly to frame the issue, put the situation in perspective and engage. Help people understand what’s happening and the actions the company is taking to move forward. When leaders step up with timely, clear and transparent communication, it keeps stakeholders from making incorrect assumptions or spreading false information.

 Learn more about the role of communication in crisis management. Download the guide here.

Communicate information simply and factually through regular, proactive updates. Keep people connected and help them understand the “why” behind difficult decisions and actions. This will help create understanding and focused engagement. Use a multi-channel approach to deliver a regular flow of trusted information that will put employees at ease, empower them to act and help them stay focused.

Some ways to prepare:

  • Create clear messaging and template materials to have ready as part of the business’s crisis management and continuity plan.
  • Have a clear understanding of the best channels to use for communicating with internal and external audiences.
  • Establish a culture of open, transparent communication designed to build and maintain trust.

Listen to Learn

Leaders during a crisis need to know what is on the hearts and minds of stakeholders in real time. Take time to actively listen to questions and concerns in order to meet people where they’re at and guide the conversation forward. People are likely to be distracted and worried during a crisis. Leaders who authentically demonstrate empathy and understanding are best able to ease uncertainty and stress. Showing you care is never the wrong move — unless it is insincere.

Needs and expectations will often shift during a crisis, and business strategies must adapt and evolve accordingly. Communication tools — including surveys, feedback channels and social media — provide valuable, direct listening and engagement opportunities. The insights learned guide the organization to avoid a tone-deaf response and make informed, targeted adjustments for the future.

Some ways to prepare:

  • Maintain the trust of your internal and external stakeholders so they are willing to share candid feedback and ask direct questions in a high-stakes situation.
  • Identify and be familiar with the listening tools and platforms that are most effective for facilitating feedback and two-way dialogue.
  • Monitor the marketplace regularly in order to understand changes that may occur due to the crisis.

Be Ready to Tell Your Story

Organizations navigating a crisis are often faced with high-stakes media interview requests. These are important opportunities for leaders to frame the situation and share a clear perspective. Knowing how to tell an effective brand story, manage a media interview and earn accurate, high-value coverage are essential skills for leaders to master before a crisis strikes.

Leaders also need to understand how to effectively use digital platforms and social media channels to tell their story and appropriately interact with customers, partners and communities. Organizations are best prepared when they have a clear digital strategy in place, including established and credible social channels and content plans. These are powerful tools to facilitate authentic, two-way communication and alignment across stakeholders.

Some ways to prepare:

  • Conduct regular spokesperson coaching to gain comfort and confidence when working with the media and telling the brand story.
  • Create and implement a clear digital strategy and proactively manage the content and conversations on each channel.
  • Stage crisis scenario trainings to assess plan effectiveness and ensure the team is prepared and ready to respond to an unexpected issue.

Is your organization prepared to respond to a crisis? Complete this checklist to find out.

Lead by Example

Leaders play a critical role in moving organizations forward by setting clear expectations and acting in alignment with values. It is especially important for leaders during a crisis to be present and engaged while modeling calm behavior. Leaders must deliver messages that set expectations and inspire. Communication teams are a great resource to equip leaders with the tools and support necessary for them to be effective.

Leaders have an opportunity to innovate and explain how the business will emerge strong and be ready to serve a changed marketplace as the crisis moves from the respond phase into recovery and restoration. Communication is critical during this time to create confidence, action and engagement — all vital to advancing business plans.

Some ways to prepare:

  • Ground the organization in a clear purpose or mission and values. Responding in alignment when a crisis happens will help maintain trust.
  • Establish strong partnerships between leaders and communication teams to ensure they partner well together and work effectively when the stakes are high.

Drive Growth and Change

As organizations move through the crisis, leaders have a unique opportunity to re-ground and re-imagine the path forward. This work begins as soon as the immediate crisis response is managed and the situation begins to stabilize. Encourage employees to contribute by sharing input and ideas on how the organization can recover, move forward and evolve.

A crisis can challenge leaders to think creatively and solve problems in new ways. Tapping into that mindset can positively differentiate the business going forward. Use communication to maintain stability, instill confidence in the future and inspire a refreshed vision. Provide clear, consistent updates and take time to celebrate progress and the contributions of others.

Some ways to prepare:

  • Create ways to recognize employees and celebrate accomplishments. Continuing this commitment in a crisis is an effective way to unify teams.
  • Ensure employees have strong business and marketplace acumen to ground growth ideas.
  • Nurture innovation and creativity with teams by building a growth mindset culture.

It’s not a matter of if — but when — a crisis will impact an organization. The businesses and leaders in crisis that plan ahead and prepare are those best positioned to respond quickly, minimize damage and effectively move forward.

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About Ayme Zemke, SVP, Client Service

Ayme Zemke leads client service at Beehive Strategic Communication and is a certified crisis communication leader. She has more than 20 years of strategic communication experience and has helped many organizations prepare for and respond to crisis situations in a way that sustains trust and supports business continuity. Ayme’s ability to understand people’s needs and make meaningful connections helps her move businesses forward with purpose. She often speaks and writes about crisis communication, serves on the Minnesota PRSA Board of Directors and has been recognized by PR News as a Top PR Professional and PR Team Leader.

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