CEO Mindset: The CEO in the face of a crisis

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Every organisation is bound to face an unexpected challenge at one point or another during its existence. These challenges, if not adequately managed, are capable of harming the organisation’s overall performance, the wellbeing of staff and the reputation of the CEO.

In the event of a scandal or crisis, organisations that do not control their narrative may spend years trying to rebuild their reputation after the media and other parties involved must have damaged it. While it is not solely the responsibility of CEOs to control the narrative, they can play a crucial role in navigating the crisis to their organisation’s advantage.

Here are three critical roles CEOs can play when these circumstances arise:

Anticipation and Preparedness: As the second half of the year approaches, CEOs are expected to anticipate a crisis or two.; for some, the writings are on the wall – a crisis is inevitable, while for others, the uncertainties of the business environment and other factors pose a risk to the organisation. What distinguishes a proactive CEO is the ability to preempt crisis, and this is achieved by first preparing a strategic plan for when it strikes. This plan may not effectively address the crisis when it occurs, considering it will be based on imagined scenarios, but it is a good starting point.

Availability and attention: A crisis period is not the time for CEOs to hide in shame. Instead, it is the time to show up, speak up and listen. By being available, CEOs send a signal to the organisation’s employees, investors and stakeholders that they are confident and in control. In a crisis, availability is directly related to attention, as a CEO who is on ground will listen to, take ideas from and offer advice to employees. In applying a human touch during a crisis, CEOs will paint the picture that they run a coordinated team to the organisation’s publics, especially the media.

Communication: Although this will be the responsibility of the organisation’s Corporate Communications team, they will demonstrate better disposition to the task knowing they have the support of the CEO. Depending on the nature of the crisis, the Corporate Communications team may need the CEO to be the channel through which information is passed out of the organisation by answering questions thrown their way by the press. In other situations, the CEO will take the backbench but actively play the role of feeding the Corporate Communications team with accurate information to share with the public. Lagos Business School faculty, Dr Eugene Ohu writes about Crisis Communication here and here.


Crisis management is one of the key roles of an organisation’s leader and at the heart of discharging other seemingly important CEO duties is taking time to mentally, physically and financially prepare for a crisis. Organisations whose CEOs demonstrate a presence of mind and self in a crisis are quicker to recover from its effects.