The Heart of Resilient Leadership

The rapid global spared of COVID-19 has quickly eclipsed other recent epidemics in both size and scope. In addition to the deadly human toll and the disruption to millions of people’s lives, the economic damage is already significant and far-reaching.

We recognise that companies are in different phases of dealing with the outbreak, and therefore impacts vary by geography and sector. But regardless of the extent of the virus’s impact on an organisation, we believe there are five fundamental qualities of resilient leadership that distinguish successful CEOs as they guide their enterprises through the COVID-19 crisis: 

  1. Design from the heart – and the head. In crisis, the hardest things can be the softest things. Resilient leaders are genuinely, sincerely empathetic, walking compassionately in the shoes of employees, customers and their broader eco systems. Yet resilient leaders must simultaneously take a hard, rational line to protect financial performance from the invariable softness that accompanies such disruptions.
  2. Put the mission first. Resilient leaders are skilled at triage, able to stablise their organisations to meet the crisis at hand while finding opportunities amid difficult constraints.
  3. Aim for speed over elegance. Resilient leaders take decisive action – with courage – based on imperfect information knowing that expediency is essential.
  4. Own the narrative. Resilient leaders seize the narrative at the outset, being transparent about current realities – including what they don’t know – while also painting a compelling picture of the future that inspires others to persevere.
  5. Embrace the long view. Resilient leaders stay focused on the horizon, anticipating the new business models that are likely to emerge and sparking the innovations that define tomorrow.

A typical crisis plays out in three timeframes:

  1. Respond – in which in which a company deals with the present situation and manages continuity
  2. Recover – during which a company learns and emerges stronger
  3. Thrive – where the company prepares for and shapes the ‘next normal’


CEO’s have the substantial and added responsibility to nimbly consider all three timeframes concurrently. In addition, they need to prioritise where business decisions need to be considered and made. In times of crisis, the 6 following functional areas are where leadership attention should be drawn to; Command Centre, Talent (people), Business Continuity & Finance, Customers, Supply Chain and Digital.   
 
Within the framework of these broad imperatives, resilient leaders can take specific tactical steps to elevate these qualities during the current crisis, blunting it’s impact and helping their organisations emerge stronger. With the right approach, this crisis can become an opportunity to move forward and create even more value and positive societal impact, rather than just bounce back to the status quo. See below chart. 

Making decisions that tie back to the organisations purpose is particularly important during a crisis, when companies are under increased pressure and stakeholders are paying close attention to every move. We know from researching purpose-driven organisations that they tend to thrive during challenging environments:

  • Purpose cultivates engaged employees
  • Purpose attracts loyal customers who will stick with you in a downturn
  • Purpose helps companies transform in the right way

See below to read more on this topic and access an action guide to help you put the mission first.


Doug Wilson
Partner - Deloitte Private
Waikato and Central North Island

About our guest contributor

Doug is a Practicing Chartered Accountant with 27 years’ experience working predominately for Deloitte Hamilton, with the exception of three yeas of working in the UK from 1996-1998.

His work experience combines many years of mid market accounting and advisory work, and management consulting roles including strategic advisory work. Over the last several years he has also led the provision of corporate finance services in the Central North Island which compliments his existing areas of expertise. Read more