Leadership Academy – Manager’s challenges: the role of a leader in crisis

Dr. Krzysztof Legutko, an expert in the Structured Finance Department at Bank Millennium, talks with the President of XTRF Management Systems and a business advisor Andrzej Nedoma

Krzysztof Legutko: We meet remotely to talk about the role of a leader in crisis.

In the era of the covid-19 pandemic and the economic downturn, the question of how to effectively manage in a crisis becomes more important than ever. How should we define the role of a leader today? We are dealing with an unprecedented situation. MBA coursebooks and books in the field of management do not specifically describe what we should do in this case. We influence unknown waters. My thesis is that we need new leaders for the new times to come.


First, a few sentences from the theory. One definition tells us that management is the art of achieving intended results by other people. Managers achieve the goals of the organization by organizing the work of others, not by carrying out tasks personally. A good leader is a prerequisite for moving a company or team in a certain direction. Personally, I am close to Jack Welch’s view expressed in his book “Winning“: “leadership is about helping others to grow and be successful. (…) leadership is not for you, but for others ”.

According to the situational leadership model (Hersey and Blanchard), a good boss should provide his subordinate with what the subordinate needs to effectively carry out the tasks set before him. The word “leadership” was used because the boss should base his influence on subordinates not only on the hierarchy of the service, but on the authority he has built. Situational, because the boss’s behavior depends on the situation of the subordinates. The situation is identified by the employee’s level of readiness for the task to be performed.


The managerial authority can now be of great importance in carrying out difficult changes and / or saving the company from collapse. I believe that in times of crisis, we need leaders with certain characteristics: courageous, honest, sensitive and active. On this, new leaders build their authority. The question arises whether the leader should be withdrawn, locked in his fortress, scared or should he be proactive, helping his employees?

What do you think are the practical challenges that an effective leader has to face today?

Andrzej Nedoma:

Today, the basic challenge for directors, managers and leaders is to lead “remotely” in a situation of remote work imposed on practically everyone in a very urgent mode. This challenge is all the greater the more the earlier cooperation of the teams was based on a common work environment, one office, conference rooms and close cooperation in a shared space. The sudden shift to managing a fully dispersed team presents many challenges, three of which seem particularly important.

Manage by goals, don’t “manage by looking”

This is one of the most important changes, but also probably one of the greatest benefits of the current situation. It is because managing people cannot be based on eye-observing what they are doing at the moment. Unfortunately, this is how management looks like in the vast majority of cases. The employees are then assigned tasks, and the leader or manager monitors whether they devote their time to appropriate activities. Obviously, a dispersed team cannot be managed like this.

You should focus on clearly setting and communicating the goal that we expect each team member to achieve in a given time. Additionally, in order for everyone to be able to independently assess their own progress, measures (the so-called KPI – Key Performance Indicators) should be introduced, which allow to objectively measure progress towards the intended goal. Management by objectives, of course, requires the ability to break down large projects into intermediate goals, realistic to be carried out by the team and at the same time motivating to intensive and smart work. Such an approach naturally forces the leaders to clearly communicate how each team member contributes to the implementation of the common task with their work. This binds the team together and gives a clear meaning to each job, which translates into employee motivation and commitment.

Take care of “teamwork” and organizational culture

The organizational culture is defined by a multitude of micro events and by the behavior that occurs between team members in everyday situations. Until now, these were meetings in the corridor, coffee talks, joint ordering of meals, jokes at dinner, etc. Today, it has to be translated into available remote collaboration tools and it is absolutely necessary for the organizational culture to survive and the team to have a feeling of being together. A number of simple solutions are available, such as the use of cameras during all teleconferences, “shared tele-coffee” at 10 am, the “jokes” channel on Slack or increased internal communication about the challenges and successes of individual teams. There can be many ideas here, it is important to implement at least some of them urgently.

Take care of the emotional stability of the team

This soft aspect of management seems to be particularly important today. For many employees, working from home is an organizational challenge that generates a lot of stress. Hardly anyone has a separate office room in their apartment, many employees have children at home who also require care during normal working hours, and the need to stay in a confined space for a long time is exhausting for everyone. Therefore, it is necessary to make working hours so flexible as to give everyone the greatest possible comfort in optimal reconciliation of work and home life. A huge help in this is point 1 discussed above – i.e. management by objectives. A good definition of the expected results of work gives space for self-organization and builds confidence that progress is being made regardless of whether someone works in the early morning hours, or during the day or evening. Many tasks require independent work and this can give employees a lot of flexibility. Appropriate agreement on the work mode with each employee requires a lot of sensitivity from the leader, but at the same time builds a much more lasting relationship based on understanding, trust and looking for solutions.

We should develop the list of recommendations much further, even taking into account the need to switch work and cooperation to remote tools, special care for data security in relation to the work of everyone from their own homes, or the introduction of regular remote briefings and stand-ups for teams. Nevertheless, these three aspects discussed above will allow us to ensure high management effectiveness in the current situation, and in the future, when remote work will become something natural.

To be continued soon.