Skip to main content

In April 2020, Cosmic’s joint chief executive, Julie Hawker, provided valuable insight into Leadership In Times of Crisis. At the dawn of the second national Lockdown, we feel that the lessons and advice still ring true. 

First published by Julie Hawker on Linkedin, 21/04/20

Covid19 has evolved rapidly, unexpected in its scale and impact. 

The focus on health and prevention of the spread of the virus has meant that swift prioritisation of people and places was absolutely the right course of action. 
Business Plans are being reviewed, updated and challenged and particularly the digital dimensions of those plans. PIVOT! Virtualise your service delivery, your comms, move to e-commerce and develop new business models. 

Leadership in crisis 

Multitudes of academic articles on leadership theory have given us specific skills and approaches which perform well in crisis, these include: 

  • Communication – internal and external – top quality, timely, accurate
  • Strategy and Vision – giving people confidence and engaging them in the overall goal
  • Effective Planning - giving people the sense of direction and confidence in path being taken
  • Ethos – stick with your values and principles and provide the backbone of the organisation

Who is leading when we are in crisis?

Everyone. 
People at the top of the business, CEOs, Board members, senior managers, all need to be sharply focussed on empowering people to take on leadership roles and support others, inspire and initiate ideas, communicate effectively, and commit to the values and ethics of the business strongly. 

When there are multiple risks and threats to our businesses this is even more true. Being able to empower, support and trust people at all levels and with different specialisms to act as leaders is vital. 

Model for leadership during crisis

Crisis Management before Covid19

Before 2020 many businesses will have had to manage various situations. For Cosmic these have included:

  • Flooding of premises and fire at premises (not at the same time)
  • Loss of key staff (including senior leaders)
  • Financial crisis – cashflow related (in the early years)
  • Cessation of major contract totally unexpected 

These ‘tests’ of our skills and capabilities to recover taught us lessons and we learned and adopted new processes to support our business effectively through the next crisis. Or so we thought. . . 

The nature and scale of the challenge in 2020 is so major and uncertain that most of us are not able to draw on wisdom, experience or previous tactical approaches.

New Models of Crisis Leadership 

So what have I learned so far in the major and complex crisis of 2020? (written in April 2020)
Well I have reflected that my own lived experience of previous crisis has given me some skills and structures to lean on. And our normal working plans and structures have been utilised effectively to give us frameworks and process to adapt and model.

One example would be a discipline to develop communications plans in structured and segmented ways. Internal, external; audiences and their needs for information or instructions. Channels best-suited to certain audiences. And most of all, frequency, accuracy and positivity in communications. Leaders who do their comms well in this crisis will make a major difference to the success of their plans, and also to the people in the organisation and how they cope with their pressure and anxieties. 

The way our business is structured is also serving us well so far – clarity about decision-making and delegation, staffing responsibilities and supervision, and how our partnerships support emergency planning work and new protocols has proven essential. This has all led to a position of clarity, evidence base, gaining insights regularly and ability to develop the tools for planning. In Cosmic’s case this phase happened swiftly and without too much pain. 

Strong leadership in these recent weeks/months has been experienced at Cosmic (across all levels) in being able to “press pause” to allow a period of assessment of the latest evidence, information and insights, and to assess the response needed. Moving this forwards into anticipation of next events and action planning of course. Characterised by maintaining a deliberate calmness and at the same time emitting a sense of realism and optimism has felt very important. 


With an ever evolving picture, it is interesting to see this article hold up so well, six months on. Perhaps we will ask Julie to give some reflections again soon, to see how the remainder of 2020 has been for her and fellow leaders.