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Brain circuits

Five principles leaders need to remember in times of crisis

Published 25 November 2021 in Brain circuits • 2 min read

I am Egyptian and a long time ago I had to fulfil my military service, like everyone else in the country. I was the head of a small paratrooper battalion as part of the special forces – our job was to contain terrorists. In this role, I learned five key lessons that can be applied to businesses or individuals in times of crisis. They are something strong leaders should keep in mind as they navigate the difficult situations we all continue to face.

Lesson one: In times of crisis people act on reflex; they do what they know. This means they move to heightened emotions and reduced logic. It is important as a leader to stay calm and try to help your team move back to the logic state, so you are able as a group to have rational discussions and make better decisions.

Lesson two: When under severe stress you cannot predict people’s behavior. Under very severe stress, you cannot predict your own behavior. Everyone has a different stress threshold, so you cannot guess what will push an individual too far. It is important therefore to remain mindful of yourself and your own actions to make sure you are not acting from heightened emotions. After minding yourself, listen to all your team members and colleagues so you can have an idea where they are in the current environment.

Lesson three: Manage your people’s energy. If you can get them to walk, don’t ask them to run. If you force people to put all their energy into one situation, they won’t have more for the next one – this is what leads to burnout.

Lesson Four: Ask people working for you to bring bad news quickly. You have a broad helicopter view of a situation; they have the details. When there is bad news, they need to get it to you fast so you can deal with it.

Lesson Five: If we are ambushed, the only way to survive is to counterattack. If you do nothing, you are dead. This also applies to business. As a leader, you need to evaluate a situation and get input when your company is facing an attack; either from a competitor or an external shock in the business environment. Then you must act. Not acting will kill your business.



Sameh Abadir

Professor of Leadership and Negotiation at IMD

Sameh Abadir is Professor of Leadership and Negotiation at IMD. He advises companies on negotiations and runs negotiation workshops in English, French and Arabic. He has recently directed custom programs for Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation, Jerónimo Martins, ArcelorMittal, and Merck, and he is Director of IMD’s Crisis Management online program. He was Co-Director of IMD’s signature program Orchestrating Winning Performance (OWP) and Co-Director of IMD’s Negotiating for Value Creation (NVC) open programs.


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