How Coaching Can Help You Move from Crisis Management to Crisis Leadership

By Magdalena Nowicka Mook, CEO, International Coaching Federation

Leaders always have known that uncertainty in the world, the workplace, and personal lives makes shepherding an enterprise or team a daunting and complex challenge.

In a crisis, leaders inevitably turn to what is readily at hand to navigate through difficulty—and they often miss resources they might not have considered. One resource in particular, coaching, can change the process of crisis management into constructive crisis leadership, an approach that is both proactive and powerful.

Sooner or later all organizations go through a crisis experience. When these situations arise, leaders naturally shift into planned or ad hoc behaviors that usually involve securing assets, making sure  employees are taken care of, reviewing supply chains, and revising financial projections. They might think of messaging their clients, customers, and vendors. They may conduct scenario planning.

All these actions constitute what is traditionally considered effective crisis management, the process by which an organization deals with a disruptive and unexpected event that threatens to harm the organization or its stakeholders.

Futurist and trend hunter Jeremy Gutsche suggests that times of crisis lead to times of chaos. But chaos, Gutsche writes, is not what we might think of as fundamentally negative; in fact, it can lead to innovation, opportunities, and course corrections.

This is where crisis leadership comes into play. Effective crisis leadership can reveal potential benefits in factors that at first glance seemed to present only disadvantages and distress. Leaders who recognize how chaos can change the rules come out of crises stronger and with greater employee, customer, and community loyalty than they had before.

Another potential outcome of chaos is learning. A crisis is a unique way for leaders to examine their organizations’ actions and decide which behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs to bring into the future and which to leave behind.

What skills should individuals have that will enable them to provide leadership in times of crisis? Resilience is one part of the equation. Clear communication, competence, calm, and empathy are additional skills and traits of enormous importance. But how to develop these capacities?

Professional coaching can make a remarkable difference and enable new thinking.

Coaching is a thought-provoking partnership that supports clients in reaching their fullest professional and personal potential. A coach is a thought partner, an accountability partner, and a catalyst who guides  clients toward clarity about their goals.

Coaches help clients map the route to achieving these goals and producing favorable outcomes. A coach can work with an individual or team and help walk them through the natural states of fear and insecurity toward an openness to new possibilities. A professional coach is also trained to recognize whether additional support—trauma treatment, counseling, psychology—may also be necessary to lead through a crisis.

In times of crisis, it is easy to focus only on what’s happening right here, right now. With the assistance of a coach, organizational leaders can look further ahead and not only deal with the immediate emergency but also prepare for the coming changes.

Crisis leadership requires the capacity to anticipate what’s next and lay the groundwork to stay ahead of it. A coach can challenge assumptions and help leaders re-chart their organizations’ future. That makes professional coaching an essential investment in effective crisis leadership for today and tomorrow.

To learn more about professional coaching and its organizational benefits, visit the International Coaching Federation.

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The International Coaching Federation is the world’s largest organization for the global advancement of the coaching profession and fostering coaching’s role as an integral part of a thriving society. Founded in 1995, its 35,000-plus members located in more than 140 countries and territories work toward the common goals of enhancing awareness of coaching and upholding the integrity of the profession through lifelong learning and the highest ethical standards. Through the work of its six unique family organizations, ICF empowers professional coaches, coaching clients, organizations, communities, and the world through coaching. Visit for more information.

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