The coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone and every organisation.

The changes were quick and brutal and are still happening. Every week brings new challenges and none of us know exactly what the short, medium and long-term impacts could be.

What then for the senior leaders having to make decisions? Decisions that could determine their very survival and at least their wellbeing, employee stability and motivation levels.

Forced to deal with furlough, working from home, changes to the immediate situation or ride a wave of short-term increases in business, how do leaders deal with a crisis and plan for the future?

Here are the main challenges for senior leaders right now:

Thinking long term: Questioning purpose and setting clear direction

This period of change provides leadership teams with a great opportunity to re-visit their current organisational strategy and decide whether it’s still fit for purpose. Things will almost certainly look very different now to how they did at the start of the year.

• Is our Vision still relevant?

• Is our Mission Statement still appropriate?

• Are our Company Values and guiding principles still valid?

Finding answers to these key questions will be an important step towards providing a renewed focus on the common goals and purpose of the organisation.

Often in times of crisis these are easy to overlook but the direction you set now will change the culture of your organisation and set it on the right path. Is that the direction you really want? Are you blindly hoping that things will return to normal or are you setting your organisation up for a painful few years ahead?

Thinking short term: The need to make short-term tactical decisions before it’s too late

You need to be able to make quick and possibly uncomfortable decisions. Are these tactical and ‘for now’, or do they shape your long-term future?

Analysing the world your organisation is now operating in is a crucial activity for senior leaders. Asking challenging and sometimes unpalatable questions will ensure that even short-term tactical decisions are being made as a result of sound strategic thinking rather than guesswork.

Where decisions are for the short-term only and are pivotal to survival, this is at least clearly understood and can be communicated to staff as such.

• Is there still a place for our current products and services?

• Do we have the right people in the right places doing the right things?

• How do we gain competitive edge?

• Should we diversify and do something radically different?

Preparing for the future

The short-term challenges in any crisis are likely to be all-encompassing but we have to keep an eye on the horizon to ensure we stay relevant and create solid strategy.

This is a critical part of long-term thinking and helps to ensure that your strategic decision making, as above, remains successful.

Let’s face it, we would need a crystal ball to predict the future with any certainty, especially in today’s world, but the responsibility to attempt to do so in these volatile times rests with our leadership.

• What is likely to be happening in 1, 3 and 5 year’s time?

• What are the trends likely to be?

• What will customers demand from us when things get ‘back to normal’?

• What will normal look like for us in the future?

• What happens with the UK agreement with the EU at the end of the year? 

• What happens if the China / US trade war worsens?

• What happens to the ability to recruit graduates in the next 12 months?

• What if there’s a second wave of the virus? Or third? Or even more?


Keeping staff engaged and motivated

If these are challenging times for organisational and business leaders, then let’s not underestimate the impact that this is having on their staff.

Some staff are furloughed, have taken pay cuts, have lost their jobs. Whilst others are potentially very busy and worried about the full safety of their environments. Many, of course, are working remotely from home.

These areas are being dealt with by most leaders as a matter of urgency whilst a glaringly important but less urgent challenge could be building into a big future problem: keeping current staff engaged, motivated and on board with your decisions from above.

These are essential and senior organisational and business leaders must dedicate hours in the days or weeks to the following to avoid painful long-term consequences around productivity and the loss of good people.

• Give regular updates on business challenges and decisions

• Communicate with honesty and transparency

• Deliver key messages with passion and enthusiasm to generate buy-in and commitment

• Understand that staff may be anxious so give them the opportunity to ask questions and challenge

• Be patient with reactions to a changing world

• Realise that the changes to work will affect people very differently

Become great at remote leadership and find the tools to do it appropriately for your needs.

There are many other challenges; even just keeping a clear head in troubled times can be one.


Being able to stand back and be clear about what you’re dealing with and what the effects of your actions will be in both the short and long term is critical. Only then can you build in the opportunity and resilience that will create your future successes.

Further information:

ILM Award Level 5

Organisational Leadership Skills

Managing Performance and Efficiency

Strategic Thinking and Decision Making