Crisis Leadership

Crisis Leadership

Those of us living through the Covid-19 pandemic are witnessing the most profound global changes since the Second World War. In a matter of weeks, we have been ushered in a new way of working and relating both on an individual, organizational and societal level.


One of the most pressing questions that needs to be answered in this time of unprecedented upheaval and change is ‘’what is the task of leadership?’’ We are all bearing witness to graphic examples of leaders who are doing it well, and those that are floundering as this crisis calls forward essential new leadership qualities.  So, what are these qualities and how can we as leaders adjust our approach to step into the leadership vacuum that exists over many teams, organisations and communities in this time of crisis?

It’s tempting to believe that during times of crisis a bewildered populace or workforce need heroic leadership – the kind that assures us that everything is in hand and that our leaders are somehow ahead of the ‘’game’’ and in a position to assure a good tomorrow. But big promises ring very thin when results are not forthcoming and there is the absence of authentic relational connection. Others might suggest that visionary leadership is needed to focus our imagination and motivate us work for a better future. But vision too is short lived.  It may promise a future, but when we are near the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid and contending for safety and security, our commitment to visions is easily diverted.

Neither of the above two leadership styles is needed during a crisis.  

What is needed is something far less spectacular and far less visible. We need leaders who are authentic, personal and relatable. Gianpiero Petriglieri in his excellent HBR article: The Psychology Behind Effective Crisis Leadership, describes this leadership quality as “holding”. He defines it as: “the way another person, often an authority figure, contains and interprets what’s happening in times of uncertainty.”

On a practical level what this means is that leaders have to think clearly, offer reassurance, orient people and help them harness their resources and relationships. Perhaps the easiest way to understand the impact of “holding” is to notice what happens when it is absent.  When leaders fail to “hold” their people bewilderment, anxiety, anger, and fragmentation ensue.

The concept of “holding” is a well-known one in the world of coaching. In fact, the term was coined by psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott (1896-1971) who used it to refer to the supportive environment that a therapist creates for a client. He compared holding by a therapist to the nurturing and caring behavior a mother engages in with her child that results in a sense of trust and safety. Seen in this way, “holding” is highly linked to empathy and reflects a more nurturing and feminine approach to leadership than the masculine idea of ‘leading from strength’.

In coaching the term “holding’’ is most often coupled with the idea of creating a safe and respectful space for another to explore their own thinking, shift their awareness and come up with some new and empowering choices for moving forward. Creating a positive impact in this way is highly dependent on the quality of relationship that exists between client and coach and the same is true in a leadership context.

So how can leaders “hold’’ their people well in this time of crisis?

Holding requires a range of leadership skills including the ability to show care and empathy without being derailed by the suffering of others or being drawn into their subjective interpretation of events such that they become entrenched.

Borrowing from approaches in coaching, there are a number of mindsets that leaders can adopt to enable them to “hold’’ others well:

Mindset #1 – People have innate potential

How a person behaves during a crisis, is not reflective of their potential or capability.  Astute leaders can zoom out of the current picture to see the potential of the individual and to help them connect with their own resourcefulness, rather than feeling the need to swoop in and rescue them!

Mindset #2 – You can show respect without agreeing

People usually make the best choices they can with the information they have available to according to their map of reality. Leaders need to respect their people’s map of reality even if they don’t agree with it. Through empathetic listening and insightful questions, leaders can invite their people to open up their lens on reality and identify new choices for moving forward. Resist the temptation to try to ‘’persuade’’ people out of their current view of reality. Remember – People don’t care what you know, until they know how much you care!

Mindset #3 – People already have their answers

Many leaders avoid ‘’holding’’ because they fear being put in a position where they can’t meet the expectations of others. This anxiety is based on the assumption that the role of leadership is to provide answers.  But there is a ‘’dark’’ side to this.  Whilst providing answers can be helpful, it can also make others feel ‘helpless’ and can potentially reinforce self-doubt, limiting beliefs or a level of dependency. Leaders that ‘’hold’’ assume that others have the ability to solve their own problems and know how to strike the balance between providing necessary information and allowing others to come up with their own solutions.  Remember, your answer is not necessarily the best solution to ‘’their’’ problem.

Mindset #4 – Sometimes words get in the way

There are times when people need to be ‘’held’’ without words.  Situations of grief and loss often defy words and all that is required is empathy a comforting presence.  Leaders that ‘’hold’’ others well shake off the pressure to offer platitudes to those experiencing existential pain and are able to simply be ‘’with’’ those them in a supportive and congruent way.

For many leaders who have focused primarily on building functional expertise, the prospect of “holding’’ may seem very daunting, but it is nothing more or less than an opportunity to bring more humanity into leadership and to connect with the shared vulnerability of a workforce in crisis.  

Armed with a few helpful mindsets and coaching skills, leaders that step up into this more human space, are in a position to forge new ways of working and powerfully engage their people through the crisis and beyond!

Want More?

In this her article ‘The 6 C’s of Liminal Leadership‘, Tracy May, CEO of The Diversitas Group unpacks the 6 Key Leadership Competencies that are critical to the world of the future. 

Why We Don’t Network Well

Why We Don’t Network Well

In my previous blog we explored how many of us hate networking! 


In my executive coaching practice where I work with transitioning leaders, networking is often the differentiator between those who succeed and those who get stuck. Given that each leadership transition is characterized by increasing levels of complexity and higher performance expectations, creating a network of rich personal contacts provides support, feedback, insight and resources which are invaluable for every emerging leader.  

I am an introvert who struggled to ‘make friends’ with networking throughout most of my professional career. My biggest breakthrough came when I realized that I was never going to get ahead based on my own intrinsic talent or value, but that everything that I wanted or needed to move forward already exists, but in other people’s hands.   

Once I understood that interdependence was not a problem, but a resource to me, I began to give myself permission to build and leverage by network, not just for my good, but for the good of others as well.  This resolved me of my own moral dilemmas about the risk of “using or abusing” other people through networking. Like the rest of the natural world, we are designed to be part of a network and we each contribute to the health of that network in profound and important ways. 

So, what’s behind our resistance to networking?  

Old Beliefs That Get in the Way 

The answer is, at least in part, that our beliefs sometimes struggle to keep pace with changing realities. A common thinking trap for emerging leaders is the assumption that the skills that got you here will take you further.  

Managers who typically rise through the ranks based on their strong technical skills, overlook the fact that a different skill set is required to take them further. When they are challenged to move beyond their functional specialties and address strategic issues across the business, they fail to grasp that this is a relational, not an analytical task.   

The breakthrough comes for them when they see that exchanges and interactions with diverse stakeholders are as core to their new role, as technical skills were to the old role. Instead of viewing networking as a “distraction’’ from real work, they need to shift their mindset to understand that it is core to their success as a leader. 

Acquiring new, role appropriate networking skills can begin when leaders step back and realize they need to change their identity and approach in order to successfully transition to the next level of leadership.  Along with this identity shift is a necessary re-evaluation of old beliefs, including the beliefs relating to networking. 

Fixed or Growth Mindsets 

The ability to abandon limiting beliefs and allow oneself to assimilate more supportive beliefs is key to growth mindset.  Studies on growth mindset have shown that there is a correlation between a fixed mindset and disliking networking. In study of 174 lawyers, researchers documented the effects of either a promotion (growth) or a prevention(fixed) mindset.  They found that those in the promotion mindset think primarily about the growth, advancement and accomplishment that networking can bring them.   

In contrast, those with a prevention mindset view networking as something they are obligated to take part in for professional reasons. The impact of this attitude is that they felt inauthentic whilst engaging in networking, so they did it less often and, as a result, underperformed in key aspects of their jobs.  

Face to Face vs. Online 

For the overwhelming majority of introverts that feel daunted by the prospect of having to go face to face with perfect strangers in a networking situation, I have good news.   

Not all networking needs to happen face to face although the overwhelming evidence is that this is the most effective way to build relationships. It isn’t the only way, however, and often the opportunity to connect first electronically acts as a kind of “ice-breaker” to facilitate a later face to face conversation, which is less daunting to introverts.  

Research conducted by LinkedIn in 2017, where they surveyed 15,905 Linkedin members over 17 countries, found that online networking creates value.  

35% of respondents said that casual conversations on LinkedIn led to new business opportunities. In addition, 25% of respondents reported having established a new business partnership through having a conversation on LinkedIn Messaging, whilst 61% agreed that regular online interaction was key to discovering new job opportunities.  

This is good news for introverts and those of us who are stuck in a lockdown situation with Covid-19. 

So, what can you do to build an effective network that will help you get to where you want to go? Finding a good coach to help you work through your own personal challenges around networking is a good place to start.   

Here are a few key coaching questions to get you started on a plan: 

  • #1 What beliefs are you holding about networking in general and your ability to effectively network yourself? How are these beliefs serving you? What beliefs would be more useful to you right now? If the word ‘’networking’’ doesn’t do it for you, what word can you use to replace it? 
  • #2: Where are you are in your career? Is the network you currently have reflective of the level of your role? 
  • #3: Where do you want to be in 1 year from now? How are you using your network to help you get there? 
  • #4: What actions can you take today to begin to build AND leverage your network? 
  • #5: Who is there in your network that can help you stay on track with networking? 

Want More?

Is Your Net-Working? Create and leverage your operational, personal and strategic networks. 

Is your net-working?

Is your net-working?

I hate networking!” is a common statement from many leaders I coach. For many of them, particularly those who identify as introverts, networking makes them feel insincere, uncomfortable and even dirty. They will often tell me about the rare extrovert they know, who has a passion for networking and either envy them or more commonly, judge them for being exploitative and inauthentic. 


For leaders transitioning up the career ladder a solid network is often the difference between successful transition or a stall. The idea of making friends or meeting new peers is itself not unacceptable, but the idea of deriving some kind of gain from these friendships is often less palatable.  Sally Helgesen in her book, co-authored with Marshall Goldsmith ‘How Women Rise’, talks about the natural tendency that women have to build relationships, but how unnatural it often feels to them to effectively leverage these relationships. 

As unappealing as it seems to many, there is no doubt that networking has a profound and positive impact on success in the business world.  Those who actively network experience a range of benefits including faster advancement, deeper knowledge and greater status and impact, to name just a few. 

For those who are measured on productivity per hour, the difference between success and failure is often related to the number of contacts they have in their network. In a 2016 study of 165 lawyers, researchers found that the ability to network effectively both internally and externally was a critical success factor to support billable hours. 

For leaders transitioning up the career ladder a solid network is often the difference between successful transition or a stall.  

The irony is that when we transition into a new role, it is very often true that the last thing we want to think about is building our networks.  For most of us, especially those of us who are averse to networking anyway, a new role means the acquisition of new skills, higher expectations and performance pressures and so on, and so we put any thought of networking on the “back burner” for at least 6 months.  

The Three Forms of Networks 

But what do we mean when we use the word ‘network’? A network can be defined as a “set of social or professional connections”. From this perspective we can see that we are all involved in different types of networks and that networking itself is highly contextual.  

Not only do we all use networks, it is also true that the nature of our networks change naturally as we transition up the career ladder: 

  • As individual contributors, we typically form operational networks with other members of our teams, which is critical to get the job done.  
  • Later on, we may move on to create more intentional personal networks as Managers and then perhaps aim for strategic networks across different functional areas as we become Leaders or Managers of Managers.  

At each stage of our leadership evolution, these networks can act as a vital support to our transition and the successful execution of our roles. The difference between these 3 levels of networking is subtle but powerful and leaders who miss this pay the price. 

Operational Networks 

  • Purpose: Getting work done efficiently; maintain the capacities and functions required of the group 
  • Focus: Internal and oriented toward current demands 
  • Players and recruitment: Non-discretionary. Dictated by the task 
  • Network attributes and key behaviours: Depth- build strong working relationships  

Personal Networks 

  • Purpose: Enhancing personal and professional development; providing referrals. to useful information and contacts 
  • Focus: External and oriented toward current and future interests 
  • Players and recruitment: Discretionary – need to use your discernment to decide who is valuable and who not 
  • Network attributes and key behaviours: Breadth- reach out to those who can make referrals 

Strategic Networks 

  • Purpose: Figuring out future priorities and challenges; getting stakeholders support for them  
  • Focus: Internal and external and oriented towards the future 
  • Players and recruitment: Discretionary. Need to use your discernment to decide who is valuable and who not 
  • Network attributes and key behaviours: Leverage- create inside/outside links 

(Adapted from: 

In my executive coaching practice working with transitioning leaders, networking is often the differentiator between those who progress and those who stall.  

Given that each leadership transition is characterized by increasing levels of complexity and higher performance expectations, creating a network of rich personal contacts provides support, feedback, insight and resources which are invaluable for every emerging leader.  

So, what networks do you have and how can you create and leverage your operational, personal and strategic networks 

“Everything you want in life is a relationship away.”  Idowu Koyenika  

Want More?

Why We Don’t Network Well What’s our resistance to networking and why do we find it so challenging?  

The 6 C’s of Liminal Leaders

The 6 C’s of Liminal Leaders

In my previous blog (read more), I introduced the concept of Liminal spaces (from the Latin – Limen, meaning threshold) which are a “pause” or transitional moment between the passing old order and the emergent new order.

Whilst some are reacting from frustration within this liminal space, perhaps viewing it as a ‘’dead’’ or unproductive space, I would argue that there is an alternative interpretation. This is that the liminal space we are now in is critical for individuals, teams and organisations to evolve, reframe, let go of old ways of thinking and being and prepare for the future. It is, I believe the place where a new form of leadership will arise.

At The Diversitas Group, we believe that the current liminal experience leaders are in, is a critical opportunity to develop the 6 key leadership competencies of the future.  

Read on to find out what they are:


noun – the quality of being coherent and intelligible.

In times of uncertainty and ambiguity, leaders are called upon more than ever to provide clarity and this can be facilitated by transitioning well through the liminal space.To understand why, it is important to differentiate between clarity and certainty. 

Clarity refers to an understanding of “why’” things are happening and what they might mean for the future – in other words, the principles and trends that are at play.  Certainty is the desire to understand ‘’how’’ things will work out. Those that seek certainty in this liminal space will be disappointed.  All our models of certainty are based on previous experience or hindsight and as we have established, previous experience does not serve us much in this current season of unprecedented disruption. 

Clarity, on the other hand enables leaders to see beyond the current chaos, discern the wider season or cycle that we are engaged in and help their people navigate forward into their desired future.  


noun – the state of being aware of and responsive to one’s surroundings.

One of the paradoxes of the liminal space is that it invites us into an attitude of consciousness and acceptance before we can formulate next steps or look to the future.  Leaders refined by the liminal experiences learn to accept this passage, along with all its frustrations and limits because they realise that they need to learn how to direct their focus first and foremost towards managing their own responses, before trying to take control others of others or outside events.  As the distractions of the outside world are stripped away during this Covid-19 lockdown pause,  leaders at last have the opportunity to become conscious of the gap between their leadership intention and their leadership impact and re-align with their own values as they tune back in to their intuition. 

Being conscious allows leaders a way out of reactivity into responsiveness and enables them to connect with a higher version of themselves so they can live out their own ethos with integrity.  


noun – the ability to do something that frightens one; bravery

To manage the liminal space well takes courage and resolve.   Liminal spaces are by their very nature unclear and ambiguous. On a brain level, we are often triggered by uncertainty and the temptation is strong to react by filling in the gaps in our current information with data borrowed from past experiences, biases or assumptions. 

This almost guarantees that we will try to replicate old experiences and ways of thinking in the future.  In the liminal space leaders have the opportunity to resist the temptation to create the new world after the old order, by learning to respond to ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty with acceptance, courage and insight.

This means they suppress their urge to make fear driven decisions based on trying to control events and people and instead, focus their attention on accepting what cannot be changed. Then, they learn to stretch their risk tolerance and move forward into making necessary decisions ,  even in the absence of certainty.  


noun – the use of imagination or original ideas to create something

The future will be imagined before it is created, and the liminal space is the seed bed where this creative imagination begins to arise. The catalyst for creativity is the courage to suspend what is already known and engage in deep reflection about the self and the possible future. 

This idea is echoed by MIT in their Theory U leadership Model (below). They postulate that individual and organisational growth involves a journey down the left hand side side of the U, initiated by suspending what we think we already know about reality within our institutional bubble and being willing to move into the bottom of the U – the liminal space which connects us to the world that emerges from within, and is essentially unknown.

The bottom of the U or liminal space becomes the ‘’gate’’ for us to pass through so we can emerge into something new for the future. Letting go what we think we know, offers us a subtle connection to a much deeper source of knowing and once we cross this subtle threshold, nothing remains the same. Leaders that are willing to move into this place of expectant ‘’un-knowing’’ will begin to operate with a heightened level of creativity, innovation and  energy and become catalysts for an emerging future that builds upon but does not mimic the past.


noun – sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.

In the liminal space relationships are deepened.  Leaders not only have the opportunity to connect more deeply with themselves and their core values and meaning, but also to connect with others.  The traditional (and largely artificial) barriers that separate people tend to be set aside in times of crisis, and people experience a connection with others they would not normally seek out, purely based on their shared humanity. 

This opens up awareness and compassion and results in a deeper empathic connection between leaders and those they are seeking to lead. Leaders who allow themselves to connect in this way develop a deep understanding of stakeholder concerns and needs and can use this insight to inform their decision making. In this way they build trust and shared commitment to mutually beneficial outcomes and begin to lead people and communities, instead of just executing tasks.


noun – the action or fact of forming a united whole

Leaders of the future will, to a greater degree than today, be defined by their ability to take an active and constructive part in the society in which their business operates. Their focus will shift from simply doing business to questioning how their business is done, from thinking only of profit, to thinking about organisational, social and environmental sustainability. This wider focus germinates in the liminal space, where they realize their mutual interdependency and the power of harnessing collective energies to create the desired future. Otto Scharmer describes this shift as one from ‘’ego-system’’ to ‘’eco-system” thinking.

He goes on to explain “What’s really needed is a deeper shift in consciousness so that we begin to care and act, not just for ourselves and other stakeholders but in the interests of the entire ecosystem in which economic activities take place.”

The current liminal space is a ”fertile void” for the emergence of a quality of leadership that individuals, teams, organisations and communities desperately need. 

How leaders respond to this space may become a critical predictor of personal and organisational success and sustainability in the emerging new order.  Our responsibility as Executive Coaches and Leadership Facilitators is to support them to use this time well and connect with the highest expression of their leadership  so they can become agents of positive change and play their part in ushering in a world that we all want to live in. 

How are you supporting your leaders at this time?

Want More?

Check out our website to learn about the Liminal Leaders Programme. Designed for leaders and managers responsible for people, strategy and execution this programme will support and develop you to reach the next phase of personal and organisational growth required to be able to survive and thrive in the world of tomorrow. 

The Liminal Space and Why it Matters

The Liminal Space and Why it Matters

Covid-19 and the political response to it has plunged the world into an unprecedented state of disruption and magnified the political and organisational leadership vacuum.  Thinkers, business-people and leaders are scrambling to assimilate the facts, make sense of what is happening and make predictions for the future. The challenge in achieving this is the unique nature and scale of the crisis. 

Borrowing learning from responses to previous pandemics, such as the 1918 Spanish flu, seems to offer limited value when we consider how much the global landscape has changed in the last 100 years.  Currently, it seems that our hindsight and predictive models are not enough to help us map the future…

But there is another way to look at this.

Whilst previous experience offers us little insight in predicting the course of the pandemic, there is a lot we can learn from ancient wisdom to help us to respond to and transition in the crisis. Arising from a time when humankind was closely connected to the earth, leaders of old understood the importance of making sense of our personal experiences through the lens of seasonal cycles. The writer of Ecclesiastes revealed this cyclical view of history when he declared:

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: … A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

There are modern writers too, that have drawn from this ancient wisdom to make sense of human events as part of broader cycles of change. In their seminal book The Fourth Turning, Strauss and Howe invite us to unlearn the linear view of the modern world as being exempt from the seasonal cycles of nature and to understand that the rhythms of biology and nature are reflected in the rhythms of political, social and organisational change.  These cyclical rhythms are often initiated by crisis and upheaval which invite us to let go of the old order and usher us into a threshold or liminal (from the Latin ”Limen” which means threshold) position as we await the emergence of the new order. Seen in this way, the Covid-19 pandemic and  lock-down have signaled an abrupt seasonal shift and resulted in a collective experience of liminality.

The current lock-down has offered us a “pause” or transitional moment between the passing old order and the emergent new order of the future.  Rather than viewing it as a problem to be solved,  we have an invitation to use this time to our advantage.  From a psychological perspective, the current pause could help us to let go of what is no longer relevant and re-align with ourselves so we are prepared to meet the demands and requirements of the next season of our lives. In this way this liminal space can act as a necessary ‘’bridge’’ from our old reality and the new reality that is trying to emerge.  Though uncomfortable, being suspended in this current liminal space of ”unknowing” offers us a chance to re-imagine the future and what our place in it might be.  How will you use it?

“In the universe there are things that are known, and things that are unknown, and in-between them, there are doors.” 

– William Blake


Want More?

What does the Liminal Space have to do with leadership? In her article ‘The 6 C’s of Liminal Leaders‘, Tracy May, CEO of The Diversitas Group unpacks the 6 Key Leadership Competencies that are critical to the world of the future. 

Liminal Leaders and the Leadership Vacuum

Liminal Leaders and the Leadership Vacuum

What is the state of leadership amidst Covid-19 and how can understanding the Liminal Space actually help leaders and organisations emerge into a new future?

Join Tracy May, CEO of The Diversitas Group and Chantal Horton, Associate of The Diversitas Group as they discuss the current leadership vacuum that Covid-19 has presented, and offer an alternative way for leaders to embrace the liminal space between the old world and the new, creating transformative impact for themselves and their organisations. 


Want More?

Join Tracy and Chantal as they unpack these topics further with other global business leaders in a virtual leading from the Liminal Space forum. These highly interactive sessions will take place on:

Session 1: Monday 15th June 15:00-16:30pm (GST)

Session 2: Monday 22nd June 15:00-16:30pm (GST)

Session 3: Monday 29th June 15:00-16:30pm (GST)

Session 4: Monday 6th July 15:00-16:30pm (GST)

Register your interest by filling in the form below and a member of our team will be in touch with joining instructions!

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