Executive Coach Jo Emerson shares a framework to help others access their inner leaders and help others through any crisis. Read her insightful article!

The Covid-19 crisis has called the world out of its comfort zone and we have all had to flex, adapt and change. This has been particularly true of leaders who have been looked to for guidance, structure and hope as we have trekked together across the ever-shifting sands of uncertainty.

Crises are always the making of many and, sadly, the breaking of others. If you are in a position of leadership I would urge you to consider this to be your time to shine brightly so that others feel safe enough to start switching on their lights to join you.  

So, what is great leadership and how can you show up as a leader for your family, colleagues and communities at this time? 


I recently ran an online workshop for the Centre for Army Leadership at Sandhurst and we started with my 5 pillars for great leadership, which are:

  • VISION which promotes INSPIRATION
  • HUMILITY which promotes INNOVATION
  • COURAGE which promotes SECURITY
  • HONESTY which promotes TRUTH


As leaders we are called to high levels of EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE by which I mean we manage our own emotions, understand ourselves (our triggers, our fears and our motivations) and endeavour to understand those around us.
There has been a huge amount of fear-mongering in the press over the crisis (some understandable, some not) and the most crucial thing a leader must do in any given situation is manage his or her own fear.

As an example from my own life, my children came home from school - I have two daughters in secondary school and one in primary - the week before lockdown having been told they were likely to not sit exams, not go on their trips, not go to school and not see their friends for 3 months.
They were scared about their own lives and worried about people dying from corona-virus and they looked to me for support and guidance. I, at that point, was facing a fair amount of business uncertainty whilst wondering how on earth I was going to home-school three kids and provide help to my community. So, I turned to the pillars… 

I managed my fears by speaking to my mentor and running through some written inquiry work on my own.
The first thing I do every day is to take steps to manage my mind because everything starts with our thinking.
Because I did this emotional intelligence work I was able to show up with integrity and calm for my kids and tell them that despite the uncertainty we would be okay, that the world would find its way through this and that they were safe.

They then looked to me for VISION - they wanted to know how things were going to be. 

So, we drew up a daily “Corona-timetable’ on the chalkboard in our kitchen and set mini-goals for our time together (paint a bedroom, learn to draw, grow vegetables, cycle together regularly, clean windows, read a book a week etc).
We also talked about who we were going to be with each other (kind, understanding, sharing the load of housework etc). Knowing “how it was going to be and who we were going to be” gave my kids enough security to be inspired to come up with creative ways to manage their time and also allowed me to pull them back from their squabbles and procrastination because the boundaries had already been agreed.

One of the greatest qualities a leader shows is HUMILITY and my kids know that I am utterly fallible and will apologise when I get things wrong.

I will also change direction if I feel we’re off track and ask them for help with things I’m not skilled in (I desperately needed my 16-year-old’s help when I was asked to hold a corporate day on Zoom, for example!).
Humble leaders know they are a part of the whole and their job is to serve that whole.

The pandemic has required COURAGE from us all and I have watched our national leaders make decisions that I would not have wanted to make.

I have talked to my children a lot about how much I respect our leaders for the weight of responsibility they have courageously carried even though I might not agree with some of the decisions they have taken.

Taking decisions requires the courage to act and live with the results of those actions. Leadership and courage are like love and marriage (“you can’t have one without the other…”)

Lastly, throughout the crisis, I have encouraged my kids to be HONEST about how they are feeling and I have been honest with them.

They have often asked, “How long will lockdown last, Mum?” and I have fought the temptation to soothe them with falsehood and instead I’ve replied with honesty, “I don’t know - no one knows but I do know we will be okay because we are together and I love you.”

Honesty means they trust me and without trust, you have no leadership and no real team.

So, how can you show up as a leader for your team, family & community during this time? Here are some questions to get your juices flowing…


  • What is my biggest fear right now and who can help me get some perspective on that?
  • What are the greatest fears of my team? 
  • Have I listened to those people express those fears?
  • Have I acknowledged my teams’ fears even if I can’t fix them?
  • Where is north for us as a team right now?
  • How will I communicate that?
  • What values will we work to during the pandemic?
  • How do my team need me to serve them?
  • Do I owe anyone an apology? 
  • What decisions do I need to make? Where have I been timid? Where do I need to act with more courage?
  • Have I been honest with my team? Do they trust me?
  • What values and attributes do I want this team to be remembered for post -COVID?


Remember that as a leader you are a fallible human being who will often get things “wrong” - we are all on the path of progress because perfection is an unattainable myth.

Often the best thing you can be as a leader is a coach - trusting in your team to have the answers within them and asking clever questions to elicit those answers and more questions to generate the motivation to act.

I have often said that a great leader is like a wise gardener who provides healthy soil in which his plants can grow, weeds that soil to keep the plants healthy, prunes the overgrowth, feeds and waters, and then sits back and allows the plants to radiate in all their glory.

For more information about The Emerson Process for leaders and teams please visit my website

You can read more about Jo and her coaching work in our insightful interview, find it here.

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If you would like to find out more about coaching and how it can change your life, just like it changed Jo’s and many others’, start by joining us for a free online Introduction to Coaching course. Choose available dates here.



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