How to Lead Through a Crisis

In the fall of 2007, I went through a personal crisis. My mom lost her battle with cancer. Although she had been fighting this horrid disease for a number of years, it still came as a massive shock. My mom and I were very close. She was my confidante. She was my prayer warrior. She was my anchor. I didn’t take her passing very well. 

She passed away only a year after we had planted our church. The church was young and vulnerable. The leadership was still forming and were in many ways still getting to know and trust me as their leader. It was a crucial time, and how I led through a crisis could make or break our young church. 

Leaders are people too. We are not able to avoid a personal crisis. Leadership is difficult at the best of times, but it becomes exponentially more difficult when others are relying on your leadership and you are having to navigate a personal crisis at the same time. 

Here are some tips for how to lead through a personal crisis:


It’s okay to not be okay, even when you are a leader. A healthy level of vulnerability is endearing as a leader. People tend to trust leaders who are real and authentic, especially about themselves. Pretending everything is okay, even when it is not, can actually damage trust with your subordinates. When going through a personal crisis, it will inevitably affect your work. People will begin to notice that you are not yourself. Even the best cannot keep their personal life completely separate from their professional lives. It’s wise as a leader to compartmentalize, but don’t avoid it. So, when going through a crisis, be honest with yourself that you are not okay. Then be honest with your team that you are going through something personal and ask for their patience and help in this season.


When you are vulnerable with your team about what you are going through, be careful that you don’t overdo it. People cannot follow someone they pity, so be careful whose shoulder you cry on. Be honest with everyone, but don’t put the weight of your crisis on your subordinates. A good rule of thumb is to be honest all around but cry up, not down.


What I mean when I say “cry up, not down” is find someone who is above you in the organization or is a peer outside of the organization who can be your confidante. It is wise to get a second set of eyes on our leadership and if what we are going through is having any negative effect on the organization. It’s okay to ask for help. So, find someone who can help you when you are in need. That person might be a mentor, a counsellor, or someone who is more senior to you in experience that can help coach you through the season you are in.


The temptation for all of us who are going through extraordinary stress is to become less disciplined when usually the most helpful thing to do in a crisis is to become more disciplined. The temptation is to eat whatever you want when you should be careful about what you eat because food has a definite effect on your energy and mood. The temptation in crisis is to abuse sleep when in actuality, you should be more disciplined in times of crisis when it comes to sleep. The temptation is to avoid exercise when it might be one of the most important practices to ease stress and refresh your spirits. It’s the old “put the oxygen mask on yourself first” analogy. If you begin to not take care of yourself, you will inevitably become weaker and not able to help or lead anyone else.


When extra stress is added to your life in moments of personal crisis, I recommend prioritizing your tasks and separating those urgent tasks only you can do from the everyday tasks that can be delegated to your team members. Delegating is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that you are dealing with only what is urgent at this time. Let those you delegate tasks to know that this is only a temporary measure and when you are through this season, you can resume your regular duties. What you might discover in a crisis season is that this forced prioritizing might be more beneficial for you and your team moving forward and that some of what you have delegated can remain with your subordinates even after you are through your crisis. 

This list is not an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a start of where to think and focus when a crisis arises. Have you had to lead through a personal crisis? If so, what did you learn through that process?

For more on this topic, check out my conversation with my friend Jonathan Domingo (GoCast Ep. 025)

Share This