5 Ways Great Leaders Handle Crisis Situations

Fri May 9, 2014

The true test for any leader comes when there is a crisis. Whether it’s in a professional or personal situation, being able to effectively handle crises is a vital skill a leader must possess.

Crisis can be in the form of a team member having an emotional breakdown, a major customer making an unexpected or urgent demand, or it could be as critical as experiencing the death of a loved one.

When faced with a crisis, how a leader responds has a major impact on how others perceive them as a leader, and whether they will follow them in the future.

how to be calm during a crisis situation

how to deal with a crisis situation

Recently, in the American National Basketball Association (NBA), an owner of one team had made racist comments about a particular race of people, which was recorded by someone (his partner or girlfriend) and leaked to a website.

While there were many other issues raised by this incident, the thing that was of most interest was what the Commissioner of the NBA, Adam Silver, would do in response to the incident.

Before the decision was handed down, former players and TV analysts were all commenting that whatever the decision or punishment would be handed down, it would define the legacy of the Commissioner, even though he had been in the role for only a few months. This was a crisis situation for him!

The Commissioner handed down a lifetime ban to the owner from attending any NBA games and imposed the maximum fine that could be given. He also promised he would do everything in his power to force the owner to sell the team so he wouldn’t have any further involvement with the team or the NBA.

5 Ways Great Leaders Handle Crisis Situations

Using this situation as an example, here are five ways great leaders manage crisis situations so that any loss or damage to a company or brand is minimized and/or mitigated.

  1. Remain calm. Rather than panicking or losing their cool, strong leaders remain calm and poised. In this situation, the Commissioner made a brief comment initially to the media advising that further comments would be made at another time, when more details were known. He didn’t shy away from the fact a crisis was on his hands. He made it known he was doing everything he could to address the situation.
  2. Get the facts right first. Instead of jumping to conclusions and making rash decisions, great leaders reserve their judgment until they gather all the facts. In this situation, the Commissioner waited for expert confirmation that the voice heard on the recording was indeed that of the owner of the basketball team.

    Had he handed down a decision before receiving voice confirmation, it could have caused major issues if it had been proven that it wasn’t the owner’s voice. Having evidence to back up a decision is extremely important when so much is at stake.
  3. Attend to what’s most critical. Whenever there is a crisis, emotions can run high, which can lead to further issues if it isn’t managed well initially. The key here is to get people on the same page or being willing to discuss how they’re currently feeling.

    When this story first surfaced, there was outrage from current and former players, and social media went crazy with people reacting negatively to the comments that had been made.

    What was most critical at the time was to ensure that the playoff games would go ahead and not affect any television schedules worldwide. The Commissioner did everything in his power to ensure the players took the court and the playoff schedule wouldn’t be interrupted.
  4. Organize a team. Obviously, it’s better to have a team handling a crisis than a single person. Wherever possible, great leaders call on the support of their team to help them get through the crisis.

    In this situation, because it was affecting a worldwide audience, the Commissioner needed the support of team owners and executives, media spokespersons, TV channel executives, players associations and representatives. Their job was to ensure everyone involved would do what was best for the league rather than having an emotional response.
  5. Act promptly. All the planning and managing is fine, but if there is no swift action, then all the efforts gone into managing the crisis may be wasted. It’s important to make decisions quickly, with the facts available, and take the appropriate actions to get things back to as normal as they can be.

    In this situation, the Commissioner handed the punishment to the concerned owner with a few days. The prompt action drew unanimous praise for the Commissioner and some went even as far as saying that the way he handled this crisis has already defined his legacy in the league. That’s a huge statement considering Commissioner Adam Silver has only been in the role for a few months.

Great leaders really differentiate themselves from other leaders through the way they handle crises. When a leader can come through a crisis unfazed, strong and confident, they’re more likely to influence others to follow their lead.

Question: Who are examples of leaders who have handled crisis situations effectively?


  1. Sean Smith

    Yessir! Love it, Neel. Great points for a crisis. My fave is #5 – act promptly. The more time that passes, the more the natives get restless! =)

    • Neel Raman

      Thanks Sean! I was following how Commissioner Adam Silver would handle the situation with the LA Clippers and he showed strong leadership throughout it. The fact that the “punishment” was so severe showed that he was not afraid to make the tough decisions. Thanks for your comment.

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