27 Traits of Strong Leaders in Times of Turbulence and Crisis

Shyam Ramanathan
10 min readApr 12, 2020

In times of crisis like this we look to leaders for inspiration,hope and direction. The last word is the key as the first thing to suffer in a crisis is direction. Leaders have a guiding vision for the future and turn to hope when others can only see mud. Lets hope in this time of enormous crisis it also unearths true leaders who can navigate the turbulent times and move us into a greater future however distant that may seem at this time.

Everyone has their own definition of leadership. Mine is simple it is about dreaming big, inspiring others and leading by example. Leaders really do dream big dreams think of Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Roosevelt, Churchill among others. The current business landscape requires more leaders who are willing to chart new seas and deal with change in a world that has not only flattened but also eliminated geographical boundaries. The 21st Century leader needs to pack the following traits in their repertoire. Leaders are made and of course they are born as all of us are.

Here are my musings on leadership and everyone can come up with their own version.

Leaders are visionaries — What separates a leader from a manager is an audacious vision. Only leaders have vision and vision is something that can get us out of bed and into the market to deliver excellent value. Let’s consider the vision of JFK to land a man on the moon. It was clear and audacious. Clearly set the vision for your life and enterprise. Imagine yourself in 2039 and then paint a picture of where you want your life to be. You can do the same thing for your organization as well. In the book Game Changers Dave Asprey says one thing all top people seem to have is a compelling vision of what is truly important to them and aligning all their activities around the important things. At this time of enormous crisis we need a compelling vision to not only count the days but to make the days count.

Leaders are optimistic — This is right at the top of the hit parade for any true leader. Tom Peters said, “The race will go to the curious, the slightly mad, and those with an un-satiated passion for learning and dare-deviltry.” Optimism is one of the key traits of successful people. All change or innovations that have happened in the world are due to people willing to see something more than others see. Where others see roadblocks, successful people see opportunities. I have come up with ten commandments which can help us be at our optimistic best. You can read it here. The Optimist’s Manifesto.

Leaders grow other leaders — Of course I am not the first to suggest this. In times of uncertainty and crisis leaders clearly need to have a succession plan. They need to be developing leaders all around them so that the organization survives in spite of any individual. This is what Jim Collins calls Level 5 leaders. They are ambitious first and foremost for the cause not for themselves.

Leaders are generalists — If you truly want to be a leader who thrives in the 21st century you need to be a generalist. You can have a team of specialists but the leader needs to be a generalist. The book Range by David Epstein will get you thinking about your career in a unique way for sure. The book starts with the examples of Roger Federer and Tiger Woods. It is interesting that when he was a kid Roger Federer wanted to meet Boris Becker and reach 6 grand slams. However, Tiger Woods wanted to be the best of all time. The key learning here is that thriving in the 21st century workforce requires us to be a generalist than just specialists. You may not be the best at something but if you have multiple things you are good at you will win bigger. It has a lot of examples across the spectrum.

Leaders are trend spotters — We have been talking about change since time immemorial. Since the brief time I have been on earth every era said that is the most gut-wrenching time. Unemployment has always been an issue. Luddites feared their jobs going but facts say that more jobs were created during the industrial revolution. Now we may see more jobs disappear but let’s not give up hope that great leaders can still find new jobs for humans to bring their imagination and unleash the latent talent in people. So be a trend spotter and align your enterprise to move with the times showing increased agility while inspiring people to bring their best selves to work. In Imagine It Forward Beth Comstock shares the rule of three. First time is an occurrence, second time is a coincidence but third time it occurs then it is a trend.

Leaders are people builders — Leaders build people and they never bring people down. The job of a leader is to inspire people to live their best lives providing their best service in the progress of the organization’s vision. Organizations are never going away but hierarchy is. Promotions will never go away but the way performance appraisals are done may go away. In times like these it is very important for leaders to build people and ensure their self-esteem is protected at all costs.

Leaders are decision makers — A strong leader is decisive and takes decisions quickly. I love this quote by Adlai E. Stevenson “On the plains of hesitation lie the blackened bones of countless millions who at the dawn of victory lay down to rest, and in resting died.” So, leaders don’t hesitate to take tough decisions. Its good to make decisions with some deliberation but once you have made the decision you need to make it work. As it is often said successful people don’t make the right decisions all the time but they make their decisions right.

Leaders are flexible — In the current business environment all bets are off and what you think worked yesterday is no longer in play. To stick to something just because it worked yesterday is no longer viable. Being flexible and nimble is the name of the game. We should all be ready to change our decisions when we get new and better information. Leaders should keep their ears open to innovative ideas and accept that change is the only constant. I like this quote by General Eric Shinseki “If you dislike change, you’re going to dislike irrelevance even more.”

Leaders are talent spotters — You can have the greatest and grandest vision but if you don’t have the right people to execute the vision it is dead in the waters. No one can say it better than Jim Collins when he said, “Get the right people on the bus in the right seats and get the wrong people off the bus.” The time spent in hiring is the most valuable time of a visionary leader.

Leaders are generous with appreciation — Appreciation is oxygen to the soul. Everyone wants to feel important. If you want to keep the best people then it makes sense to keep appreciating people for the excellent work they do. Praise in public and share any criticism in private. It is very important to keep the people energized at this time of uncertainty. Keep building people through recognition and praise.

Leaders are brutally honest — This means they are not afraid to be unpopular without being pushy or aggressive. Yes, the leader cannot always be praising if things are going wrong. There are some decisions of a leader that not everyone is going to like but as Jack Welch said in his book Winning someone made you a leader because you know not only the short term but also think long term.

Leaders are quitters– The best example is Jack Welch as he got out of every business where GE could not be Number one or Number two in that specific market. In your personal life, also you can learn to quit things where you cannot be great. If learning the piano is painful please do quit it and apply the same pain to an area of life where you can make a true difference in your life.

Leaders are committed to winning — Every leader wants to win and strong leaders are committed to winning. The team that has an overwhelming desire to win will always outperform the team which does not care about winning. Leaders know exactly what a win looks like and they do everything to ensure the team is equipped with the best resources to enable the winning. Commitment to winning inspires the team to reach greater heights.

Leaders are resilient — The only sure defense is offense. The only the sure thing in a leader’s life is a crisis. A leader needs to have a strong resilient mindset to traverse and navigate the turbulent markets. Resilience can be built by having a strong mission statement, strong core values, clear goals, maintaining good attitude, being physically agile and sleeping well. Resilient organizations are built on the back bone of strong leaders.

Leaders are disruptors — It was the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter who coined the term “creative destruction.” This was when an existing industry or product is disrupted with a superior product. Digital photography replaced film photography. Then there was disruptive innovation where a company comes with an inferior product which is cheaper and it is ignored by market leaders. This is what happened to the disk drive industry. Now in the blue ocean shift the authors talk about something called non-disruptive creation. For example, Tony Robbins created the life coaching industry when it did not exist. The point is leaders need to be disruptors and they can choose either of the methods.

Leaders are relationship managers — Business begins and ends with relationships. Emotional intelligence is more important than IQ. Self-awareness is one the of the keys to be a successful leader. A leader needs to manage both the internal and external stake holders. Give people the respect they deserve and treat everyone equally. Leaders don’t let their emotions run amok and are steady in times of turbulence.

Leaders are continuous learners — As I mentioned earlier all bets are off. Unless leaders keep up to date with their industry and related industries it is next to impossible to lead effectively. Keep reading across all sources. Read books, listen to podcasts, read the blogs, connect with the experts, document what you learn and share what you learn with others.

Leaders are responsible — Leaders take responsibility for results. They never engage in the blame game. They take blame personally but give credit generously. As Harry Truman said, “The buck stops with me.”

Leaders are great at networking — Your success as a leader is directly related to the strong network you have built. So, keep building your network and share great content to your network. Networking is a must for the 21st century leader. You will grow in direct proportion to the strength of your network.

Leaders are legacy builders — Leaders are very aware of the legacy they want to leave. You can only leave a legacy by living it. Constantly think of how you want to be remembered and align all your activities to reflect your deepest convictions. Leaders know that by living their legacy they are building a great platform of excellence and purpose that will hold them in great esteem well into the end of their lives.

Leaders are right brain evangelists — As the need for creativity elevates and with machines also taking over some of our jobs the need for right brain leaders is even more prevalent. Great leaders tap into their intuition and bring their right brain skills to win in a marketplace that is craving for newness and ingenuity. Develop your right brain skills through remarkable story telling and building a team of great designers.

Leaders are high on self-care — Great leaders take care of themselves well especially in times of crisis and turbulence. Focus on your mental, physical, social and spiritual self. Exercise regularly, eat well, sleep well and keep recharging your batteries on a regular basis. I just read recently that Jeff Bezos likes to get eight hours sleep as this enables him to make better decisions. Leaders need to be fresh in their thinking and self-care is the name of the game.

Leaders are customer centric — Great leaders know that only by building raving fans can a business survive in an increasingly crowded marketplace. Even in an era of deep commoditization it is only the leaders and organizations who treat customers like royalty that really win in the long run. So, take care of your customers well and the business will automatically flourish.

Leaders are trust builders — Great leaders build trust at every level of the organization. This trust serves them well when there are setbacks. If you want your team to rally behind you then trust is the currency that will help. Maintain an open communication channel with all the key stakeholders and ensure unwelcome news is shared as importantly as the good news.

Leaders challenge directly and care personally — This is based on the principles outlined in the wonderful book Radical Candor by Kim Scott. The main thesis is as a leader you have to be brutally honest with your team while at the same time caring for them personally. As leaders it is our responsibility to ensure our team never feels let down and we protect the self esteem of each individual.

Leaders are passionate — Leaders ooze passion. They are totally sold out to their vision and are committed to winning. The passion rubs off on the team as well. Passion starts with the leader and ends with the team.

Leaders are courageous — Leaders embody courage in every action of theirs. As Winston Churchill said “Courage is rightly considered the foremost of virtues for upon it all others depend.” Courage is the ability to take calculated risks in the pursuit of an audacious vision. Courage is what separates strong leaders from the rest.

As I said these are musings from me on what leaders can do to thrive in crisis, navigate during turbulent times and win in the marketplace. There can always be many things a leader can do but one thing is for sure leaders must embrace the paradox. Sometimes you should be flexible and sometimes you should be stubborn. Sometimes you should think big picture and sometimes you should think of the day to day activities. Only when a leader embraces the different paradigms of action can they truly lead and win in the new ever-changing business landscape. What is needed at this time is a cool head with a calm reassurance that everything will turn out all right. This balancing act is not easy but necessary to overcome the enormous headwinds that face every leader in a turbulent environment.

The views expressed in this article are my own and do not represent my organization. Thanks for reading this post.



Shyam Ramanathan

I am Head of Quality Assurance with expertise in leadership and delivery management. I like reading business books and try to share my learning with everyone.