Author: Haye Jukema

Hanze University of Applied Sciences, Groningen, The Netherlands

In a Dutch newspaper Ben Tiggelaar wrote a nice column about Leadership in times of Covid-19.

“The fact is that in a crisis like this, with 50 percent of the knowledge, you have to make 100 percent of the decisions,” according to the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

Leadership in crisis situations is a profession in itself. A few years ago, researchers Arjen Boin, Paul ‘t Hart and Femke van Esch listed what leaders should pay attention to. A checklist * for directors and managers with seven points for attention.

The key challenges of crisis leadership are *:

  1. Sense making: diagnosing confusing, contested and often fast-moving situations correctly, a necessary condition for effectively meeting the other challenges.
  2. Decision making: making strategic policy judgments under conditions of time pressure, uncertainty and collective stress.
  3. Meaning making: providing persuasive public accounts of what is happening, why it is happening, what can be done about it, how and by whom; in other words, ‘teaching reality’ aimed at managing both the general public’s and key stakeholders’ emotions, expectations, behavioural inclinations, as well as to restore their crisis-eroded trust in public institutions and office-holders.
  4. Coordination: forging effective communication and collaboration among pre-existing and ad-hoc networks of public, private and sometimes international actors.
  5. Consolidation: switching the gears of government and society back from crisis mode to recovery and ‘business as usual’, without a loss of attention and momentum in delivering long-term services to those who are eligible.
  6. Accountability: managing the process of expert, media, legislative and judicial inquiry and debate that tends to follow crises in such a way that responsibilities are clarified and accepted, destructive blame games are avoided.
  7. Learning: making sure that the parties involved in the crisis engage in critical, non-defensive modes of self-scrutiny and draw evidence-based and reflective lessons for their future performance.

How should we use this checklist? Ben Tiggelaar asked one of the authors, Arjen Boin, professor at Leiden University. Boin: “You should see these points as a framework for assessing the performance of leaders during a crisis. For example, you can measure the actions of the government or board of directors  or management during this crisis. It is better than simply saying: they are doing well or they are not doing well. Leaders can score well on some of these dimensions and less on others. ”

The question remains how do you score on the key challenges of crisis leadership? And are you able to learn from  your colleagues and this crisis?

* Political Leadership in Times of Crisis: Comparing Leader Responses to Financial Turbulence: article to be found on /