What It Means to Be a Leader During a Time of Crisis

Woman explains a project to her colleagues

The COVID-19 pandemic has been the ultimate test of resilience for corporate leaders everywhere.  

Since March of 2020, organizations around the globe have had to pivot their day-to-day operations to address the impacts of the ongoing pandemic. And behind every successful organization was a strong leadership team. 

During the early months of the pandemic, team leaders, managers, and company executives “had to reinterpret events from a standpoint of fear to one of opportunity,” writes Monica Fike, Editor at LinkedIn News

Their ability to respond and react with confidence in the wake of a crisis is called cognitive reframing, and it is the most effective mechanism for resilience, according to leadership coach Lionel Frankfort

Who do I want to be during COVID-19? 

Early last year, Frankfort was captivated by a now-viral chart that poses the question, Who do I want to be during COVID-19?

Figure 1. “Who do I want to be during COVID-19?”

Potential answers to the question change as one moves from the Fear Zone, defined by emotions of fear and anger, to the Growth Zone, defined by empathy. The middle zone, called the Learning Zone, represents the transition from fear to empathy through self-awareness. 

The final zone, the Enlightenment Zone, does not appear in the original chart. “There was a final stage missing from the image: the enlightenment zone,” writes Frankfort. “[This is] where I could appreciate quality time with my family. This journey happened in an extremely privileged context with all my basic needs covered.” 


Cognitive reframing

The chart inspired Frankfort to dig deeper into the mechanisms through which leaders build resilience.  

To better understand how leaders transitioned from the Fear Zone to the Growth Zone (and later, the Enlightenment Zone), Frankfort interviewed 42 top executives between March and December 2020. He asked them to position themselves across the four zones and share the habits or practices they developed to manage stress over the course of the year. 

The results pointed to cognitive reframing as the most frequently cited mechanism for resilience.  

“The art of reframing is in the ability to put the Covid-19 crisis into perspective and interpret the facts in a less threatening manner,” says Frankfort. 

Some examples of practices that fall under the umbrella of cognitive reframing include: 

  • Crafting a long-term vision and setting short-term priorities to work towards it 
  • Referring to previous crises to inform organizational strategy 
  • Formulating a plan of action in case of the worst-case scenario 

Other mechanisms for resilience

Outside of their capacity to engage in cognitive reframing, most leaders also adopted practices that align with other mechanisms for resilience: 

  • Adjusting for employee health and safety  
  • Instilling a sense of purpose 
  • Participating in outdoor activities 

“Deliberately or intuitively, all [leaders] deployed one or more of the above mechanisms to raise personal resilience, and thereby fulfill their leadership mandate.” 

Becoming a leader 

Are you ready to take your leadership skills to the next zone? Visit https://greenkeyllc.com/jobs/ and filter by experience level and industry to find the right opportunity for you. 

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