STAREAST 2022 - Leadership in a Time of Crisis | TechWell

Leadership in a Time of Crisis

By Jeffery Payne

Conference Speaker

There’s an old saying that leadership is defined by what a leader does in a crisis. The current COVID-19 situation is such a crisis for every business.

Whether you lead just yourself, a team, a line of business, or an enterprise, now is the time to step up and be a leader. Here are some tips on how to do that when times are tough.

Stay calm

Everyone around you will take their cues from how you behave. If you run around like your hair is on fire, so will everyone else. In a time of crisis there are always a lot of emotions flowing, but you have to keep yours in check and focus on the job that needs to get done. You won’t make very good decisions if you allow your emotions to cloud your judgment. Take the emotion out of your decision-making process and think with a clear head.

Trying times are best dealt with by looking at your business alternatives and thinking through risks. Focus on data, facts, evolving information, and your business sense to make sound decisions.


When times get tough, everyone starts to wonder what is going to happen. When there is a lack of communication about the situation, everyone usually fears the worse. In a crisis, leaders are often so busy dealing with challenges that they deprioritize communication when the opposite is needed.

Keep communication flowing regularly and provide lots of avenues for anyone with concerns to express them and get answers. Never sugarcoat the truth, but don’t feel like you must highlight every single detail of every issue or challenge, either. Be consistent in your message and explain changes that are occurring. The more you communicate, the less internal strife everyone will have.

Keep key initiatives rolling

From a competitive angle, times of crisis are actually opportunities to separate your organization from others. Many will be engulfed in the crisis at hand and seize up, unable to make progress themselves as they panic. While budgets might get tighter during a crisis and could restrict your flexibility, keeping key efforts rolling is paramount.

Doing things like growing your staff’s capabilities, pushing forward new product development projects, attending conferences to learn and share ideas, maintaining your planning rhythm, and mentoring staff as usual during a crisis will all make a huge business difference when the crisis ends. Don’t make the mistake of halting all progress just because a crisis hits.

Retro the crisis when it ends

Even if the crisis isn’t something you created, after it ends, spend a bit of time doing a retrospective on what happened. Could the crisis have been averted? Should we have seen it coming? How should we handle a future crisis differently? Can we be better prepared next time? What did we do well? What do we need to do better?

Learn as much as you can from a crisis. While the circumstances might never be exactly the same, you want your overall approach to dealing with adversity to improve.


This article was originally published on March 27, 2020, on

Jeff Payne

Jeffery Payne is CEO and founder of Coveros, Inc., a company that helps organizations accelerate software delivery using agile methods. Prior to founding Coveros, he was the co-founder of application security company Cigital, where he served as CEO for 16 years.

Jeffery is a recognized software expert and popular keynote speaker at both business and technology conferences on a variety of software quality, security, DevOps, and agile topics. He has testified in front of congress on issues such as digital rights mgmt., software quality, and software research.

Jeffery is the technical editor of the AgileConnection community (