6 Skills for Leading Through Disruption
6 Skills for Leading Through Disruption

6 Skills for Leading Through Disruption

Leadership Development, Employee Well-being   — 3 MIN


With the spread of COVID-19 and the economic and social shifts we’re all experiencing in its wake, learning how to lead through disruption is more important than ever. As our situations change, so must our leadership.

Even before and beyond our current complications, businesses face continual disruption. From changing technology to shifts in global industry to market disruptions, leaders must be adaptable and be prepared to help their teams adapt as well. Unfortunately, when polled, senior executives around the world expressed little confidence in their organization’s preparedness.

According to a study conducted by Odgers Berndtson’s Leadership Practice and the Harvard Business Review, only 15% of leaders reported high confidence that their leadership team was “fit to lead through future disruption.” Another 61% replied that they were “tentative,” and 24% were openly “worried.”

Fortunately, there are ways to improve leadership skills, especially when leading through disruption, to help teams thrive through disruption.

Essential skills for leading through uncertain times

In this time of unprecedented change, leaders and team members are finding success in soft skills. Trying times require flexible leadership, and utilizing situational leadership can be a great place to start.

Created by behavioral scientist and entrepreneur Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard, author of The One Minute Manager among other titles, the Situational Leadership Theory suggests that there is no one “best” leadership style. Rather, the most successful leaders are those who adapt their style to changing situations by focusing on task-relevance and the performance readiness of their team.

During times of disruption, the energy and brainspace needed to maintain productivity can feel scarce. But with strong situational leadership, you can help your team succeed. Consider these six fundamental aspects of leading through disruption:


Leading through disruption often means dealing with quickly changing circumstances and necessities. Think of the recent rapid shift for so many to working from home. As a leader, versatility and an ability to tailor your role to immediate needs are key. The Center for Creative Leadership suggests recasting the Chief Executive Officer title as the Chief Ecosystem Officer as maintaining the ecosystem and culture stable will become a top priority during disruption.


If you think of disruptions - especially those on a global scale - as a fleet of boats trying to stay afloat on choppy seas, you’ll realize that upheaval isn’t one steady surge but a series of different disruptions. One boat may be high on a wave while another is sinking low. Because of this, it’s important to be able to continually adjust your perspective. Try looking at problems from different points of view and be prepared to adjust your approach accordingly.


Companies with strong values often inspire higher levels of employee engagement and loyalty, and those values can help see you through times of disruption as well. During times of change, double down on those principles and remember what they mean for your team, your organization, and society.


Change causes uncertainty and uncertainty breeds stress. Beyond the workplace, people may be worried about their health and that of their loved ones. If they’re newly working from home, they’re likely dealing with unaccustomed distractions. As a leader, it’s essential that you take these new challenges into account. Be compassionate, check in with your team as people beyond the job, and practice empathy.


Leading through change requires adaptability, and communication is an essential part of putting that into action. Candid dialogue with your team is also important for practicing compassion and empathy, along with heading off small problems before they become big ones. Be sure to make your open communication policy clear, ask questions, and encourage feedback.


Resilience is that capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, and it is arguably the most important trait a leader can exercise during times of disruption. Leading through change means setting a good example, and part of that is an ability to roll with the punches. Things are shifting quickly right now and the future remains uncertain, but cultivating a resilient mindset can help you lead successfully through change. To develop your and your team’s resilience make sure to find a healthy balance between focus and relaxation, practice patience, and encourage connection. If you need an extra boost, try incorporating a few minutes of meditation into your daily routine.

The golden rule

Disruption is stressful, and normality, especially now, can feel pretty far off. But by focusing on adaptability, staying open-minded, doubling down on your organization’s values, and keeping empathy, communication, and resilience at the forefront, you can not only lead your team through change, you can help them thrive.

And always remember, your team is made up of people, with strengths, weaknesses, fears, and skills. A leader who follows that golden rule of treating their people as they’d like to be treated will find themselves at the helm of an engaged, resilient team.