10 Ways to Be a Better Leader in a Crisis

19 March 2020 | 26 Comments

When times get tough, how do you take care of your employees, customers, family/friends, contractors, yourself, and others? Great leaders are often defined by how they respond in a crisis.

Yesterday I watched a short video on CNN featuring Top Chef producer Tom Colicchio. I generally agree with Tom, but I was dismayed by these two sentences: “In the last couple days I laid off 300 people [at my restaurants]. What we need right now is leadership.”

Colicchio goes on to criticize the Trump administrative (justifiably) and urges them to act (absolutely!). Yet he talks about leadership as if it’s a distant, political concept even though he’s a leader himself. He owns numerous restaurants that have hundreds of employees, and he produces a TV show that also has a large staff. (Update: Just to clarify, I’m not criticizing Colicchio for making difficult decisions, and it actually benefits his staff to be able to apply for unemployment. I just found it odd that his perspective on leadership was only outward, not inward.)

So today I thought I’d list a few characteristics to consider if you’re looking to boost your leadership skills in this–or any–crisis. This is just as much a reminder to me as it is a post for you.

  1. Take care of your employees’ livelihoods. There are a lot of people–particularly in the service industry–who are suffering right now. If they work for you, now is the time to show them how much they mean to you. For example, The Peached Tortilla in Austin is offer family meal deliveries, with 100% of the proceeds going to their staff. Numerous athletes are paying for the wages of the stadium workers at their home arenas. I understand that businesses need to make tough decisions, but great leaders don’t give up on the people who make their businesses function. This includes independent contractors.
  2. Protect your employees’ health. I think this is always important, but it’s particularly evident now. Thousands of businesses are enabling their employees to work from home. Others are switching to models (like delivery and curbside pickup) to keep their employees and customers healthy. Yet some companies that could offer such services–like CVS, could go drive-thru only for a while and is somehow choosing not to. “Health” extends beyond physical health–an employee’s emotional and psychological needs are important too.
  3. Bring joy to your customers. This is always the goal of Stonemaier Games, but it’s even more important when the whole world is stressed out. I sensed this during yesterday’s Facebook livestream, and I think it’s awesome that people like James Hudson are offering special live content to people during this time. I’ve seen the same from celebrities who are offering free online classes, concerts, conventions, and tournaments.
  4. Identify your clients’ needs. In times of crisis, clients may have a different view of what’s necessary. A great leader is proactive in identifying those needs and pivoting to meet them. I’ve seen this from stores like Labyrinth Games & Puzzles that are offering home deliveries, and other retailers–seeing that peoples’ budgets are constricting–are offering sales on various products.
  5. Act ethically and morally. It’s a human reaction to act irrationally when you feel desperate. This is an opportunity for leaders to display core principles and values. Amazon, for example, is enforcing their warning to third-party sellers about price gouging on basic necessities on their platform.
  6. Be present, informative, and accountable. I appreciate President Trump for showing up on TV every day with his team to provide status updates and answer questions. However, it’s crucially important in times of crisis to provide accurate information (crowdfunders can do this via project updates) and be accountable. There’s nothing that makes a leader look more unreliable in a time of crisis than one who blames others and avoids taking responsibility. Being accountable is a sign of strength, not weakness. A great leader says, “I’m accountable, and I’ll make it right. Here’s exactly how.”
  7. Act with intention towards friends and family. When I was a kid and I saw my mom and dad holding hands, their relationship made me feel safe and secure. Heck, I still feel that way as an adult when I see them together. Displaying your love, gratitude, and availability to family and friends shows them and others how you value lasting commitments.
  8. Take care of yourself. Physically, intellectually, emotionally, etc. Leaders are just as attuned to their own needs as those of the people around them. Simon Sinek talks about how leaders eat last, which I think is an excellent mantra–but you still gotta eat or you won’t be around to lead much longer.
  9. Put your money where your mouth is, locally and globally. Great leaders don’t just say what they want or how they want people to act–they open their wallets. If you love a local restaurant and want them to be around after the crisis is averted, order a delivered meal from them tonight or buy a gift card for you to use later. If you want the stock market to stop crashing, stop selling your stocks. You have control over your footprint.
  10. Actively work towards a better future. Great leaders plan ahead for the worst-case scenario, though it’s rare they actually need to face it. Now the worst-case scenario for many businesses is no longer a hypothetical situation. This is the time to learn firsthand what you need to do to be ready for a better, secure, sustainable future.

What are some recent examples you’ve seen of exemplary leadership in this crisis?

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Leave a Comment

26 Comments on “10 Ways to Be a Better Leader in a Crisis

  1. Hey, I’ve been thinking of anything more I can do and I was inspired by this post from Giant Brain:
    To put together a page of free content that can be downloaded and played at home, we’ve also put our normally pay to play digital content on it for free. Its not much, but hopefully it’ll help someone with the boredom. I know Jamey is posting his roll and write game now, does anyone else know of similar projects we can give shout outs too?

  2. I think this is an exceptional post, the circumstances require people to talk about this subject. Also think these are qualities that people need to have in everyday life.

    1. Take care of your employees livelihoods – this is extremely important, just put people first, especially around this time and after all of this is settled leaders will reap the rewards in every possible sense.

    9. Put your money where your mouth is – couldn’t agree more, now it’s the time to forget the numbers and collectively try to help and weather the storm, it’s gonna be much easier to deal with everything when normal life is resumed.

    Essentially i agree with everything written, i also belive that in this environment where the capital is not evenly distributed, there is enough resources in every country that if managed properly can have a massive impact in bouncing back to normal. I don’t wanna take away anyone’s honest effort in making life better for himself and his family but If only people join forces and help each other out we can make the transition easier.

    In this spirit i was thinking to post a thread on BGG where designers, publishers, gamers, even aspiring publishers like myself etc. can talk about the situation we are all in and find different solutions to help one another. If you can give your opinion if something like this can be helpful it will be great and much appreciated.

    Ultimately i think humanity can pass this test.

  3. Jamie, I absolutely love your thought leadership and genuine spirit. Thank you for continuing to be a positive presence 😀

  4. First, I want to say that this is an amazing article. Well written, well said. You and your company are shining examples of how to do this whole business thing right.

    I also want to add, that I think you seem to surround yourself with wonderful people. I just started a thread over at BGG that explains this better than I think I can here. So I will point you in that direction:


    Thanks. And keep up the good work.

      1. I love this post, thank you for sharing.
        We have been working from home since last week, a few days before the government in Greece asked everyone to do that.
        We’re also now running an offer in our website, that if someone wants to support their friendly local gaming store, wherever it might be, they can order from us and we will donate a 20% of their total order to their store of choice. I hope this will help.

  5. It has been particularly challenging to run a KS campaign during the midst of all this. We launched on Wednesday of last week. Yesterday I decided to post an update with “our pledge” to backers, copied word-for-word below:

    1. FUNDING: We will finish the campaign. We are already 125% funded and expect to continue to grow total funding to unlock a number of stretch goals including several mini-expansions and other upgrades, some of which have already been noted above.

    2. PRODUCTION: Throughout the past weeks and months we have been in close communication with more than three different manufacturing facilities, all capable of producing the game, and eager to begin. We pledge to make production a top priority and will communicate every step of the way.

    3. SHIPPING ADDRESS CHANGES: Until the week we ship your game you may make changes to your shipping address. So if you plan to move, or are simply unsure where you will be, you can always let us know and we will make sure to get your game to the right place. This can be done either through the Kickstarter system or by emailing us directly.

    4. DELIVERY: We have successfully fulfilled over 6,000 backer rewards over 9 previous campaigns. In all but one instance we fulfilled rewards within one month of the targeted delivery date (and in all cases they were delivered within four months of the expected date). We are committed to getting you your rewards in a timely fashion despite any issues that may come up in the process.

    5. REFUNDS: Anytime between now and when we begin shipping your games, you can get a full refund of your pledge upon request.

    6. MONEY BACK GUARANTEE: After your game is delivered, and up to one month thereafter, you may return it for a refund of your pledge level if you find it does not meet your expectations.

    #5 is the big one I think. It has always pretty much been our policy to refund your pledge upon request, but it goes a step further to put it in writing and it certainly feels like a risk to me. I think people need to know we take their pledge seriously and are prepared to “return the favor” if they need it.

    [#6, of course, is an old-school one promoted by Stonemaier Games.]

    Aside from this update, my plan is to continue to communicate and add joy as much as possible without dwelling on the obvious states of affairs.

  6. Jamey, this might be the best thing you ever wrote (and you’ve written a lot of very helpful articles. SPECTACULAR TIMING!

    Rule 303: If you have the means at hand, you have the responsibility to act.


  7. Buying gift cards are a great idea that hadn’t occurred to me. Thank you for sharing it – I’ve now bought a couple and some game stuff that I don’t think I need right now but am pretty sure I’ll use later.

    Since my income won’t be affected immediately and since my wife and I have made financial decisions for years that have allowed us to build up a financial buffer we can afford to help out and so we’re paying the woman who normally cleans our house once a week even though, she’s not cleaning anymore. I see that as our duty because we can afford it and it’s likely that the majority of her income was wiped out from one day to the next.

    Offering an advance to someone is another step your post led me to take.

    Another way to help is not to ask for refunds for subscription-like stuff you pay for but don’t get at the moment or at least postpone asking for it. I recently started renting an office space at a local “office hotel” (I don’t know the correct English term) and have sent them a mail to say that I don’t want a refund right now and am good with sharing the cost with them (e.g. paying half the normal cost).

    I think it goes in general that those of us who’re not affected too badly for now and have a financial buffer have a duty to help those who are being hit hard and fast because of new laws that are implemented for the common good.

    I’m not writing these things to make myself look good, but to give examples of the many things you can do to help spread the burden and keep society running if it’s financially viable for you.

  8. Very well thought out post, especially #5. Thinking beyond yourself and your immediate fears is not always easy, but is a requirement for any good leader.

  9. Its funny, this came up as an alert just as I finished mailing around all of my artists letting them know that I was happy to pay ahead for all the work that they’re doing instead of in sections if it works better for them. There are so many things we can do that make little or no difference to us but might significantly impact things for others.

      1. Thanks Blane. In the end, we have the funds available, and the work is going to be done eventually. If our freelancers (which amounts to illustrators and graphic designers for us) could do with more up-front funds right now I’m more than happy to help out.
        Everyone I work with works from home anyway, and other than donating to local food banks there’s not a lot else I can really do for others anyway, so if this little helps I’m more than happy to do it.

          1. Thanks for that, it means a lot.

            By the way, have the ordering of the comments on your blog suddenly swapped? Because I thought they used to be the other way around and I’m now thinking that its just my imagination.

          2. Newest last, because that way new comments responding to old ones make more sense. But that might just be because I’m biased from being used to it that way.

            Might be a good question for a famous Stegmaier poll?

  10. Very nice post . Our health workers are the true heroes and lead by example. Here in the UK I am indifferent to Trump, o don’t know enough about the guy other than what you read . I have to say at the news conference yesterday when he blamed China , it was a cringe moment, very juvenile and not what the world needs now. The Chinese are an amazing people.

  11. Great tips. Sometimes I miss being in the Military for these reasons. I work for the St. Louis County health department and we have great leaders here to take care of the community.

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