The four Cs of leadership in a crisis: Leanne Pilkington

Leanne Pilkington has decades of leadership experience, but the past few months have been the most testing. She’s found that guiding a team through a crisis draws on the same leadership principles as the good times, it’s just that the 'four Cs' of leadership are elevated in importance.

Like many leaders, the past few months have given me time to reflect on what effective leadership really means and how it is delivered. Challenges and widespread uncertainty might be shared by everyone, but these issues manifest among teams in countless individual ways.

Leaders must frame these challenges to resonate with their teams while providing comfort and clarity, even though team members experience the impact according to their own unique circumstances.

How can they do this? While, at a granular level, leadership can be deeply complex, at a fundamental level it can be clarified under the four Cs:

1. Calm

2. Clear

3. Consistent

4. Communication

The four Cs are effectively the same strategies for leading at any time. But the need for calm, clear, consistent communication is heightened during difficult periods. Even when the answers or solutions may not yet be apparent.


When circumstances are uncertain, people look to their leaders to provide safety, comfort and, wherever possible, certainty.

Of course, it’s not always possible to provide certainty. When this is the case, it’s important to keep communicating – calmly and clearly. Don’t avoid talking to your teams when there’s no specific update to provide, as people feel better just knowing that their leaders acknowledge the issues and are working on a solution.

Clearly articulating an issue, and the way you’re tackling it as a leader on behalf of others, is just as important as clearly articulating the solution once it’s discovered.

At the height of the COVID-19 crisis, I made a point of communicating daily with Laing+Simmons franchisees and the corporate team.

Although there wasn’t always a lot to say, it gave people comfort to know there was someone focused on the issues and that there was an outlet for them to ask questions.


People sense panic. Just ask supermarket shelf-stackers in the toilet paper aisle in April. Leaders must convey calmness when they communicate with their teams.

The added benefit of a calm approach is a clarity of purpose. Panic causes people to miss the forest for the trees; calmness focuses their vision on what’s important.

This doesn’t mean leaders should sugar-coat. It’s important that people understand the true picture and are prepared for difficult times, but there is no value in speculating about the cliff we might fall off.

The pandemic is unlike any of the crises we have seen in recent times. It is a health crisis turned financial crisis, but the economic fall-out can be positively impacted by better health outcomes.

Speculating on real estate price falls and job losses is not useful. It leads to panic. We need to focus on what we can do, not on what we can’t control. And leaders can calmly steer this conversation.

At times like this, people can struggle to connect with their purpose. Or they may find that their purpose has changed dramatically.

Consider the person whose purpose was to work hard to take the family on an amazing overseas holiday. What now?

Leaders can emphasise the importance of purpose: that we all need something to look forward to, even when circumstances change. That person motivated by the overseas family holiday can still find purpose in planning other experiences for the family, closer to home.


Consistent communication shouldn’t mean the process has to become stale. Leaders provide an engaging experience for their teams, and this should extend to how we communicate, especially in times of crisis.

Technology gives us plenty of options. One-on-one discussions over the phone or via email; group discussions of a business nature, interspersed with group chats that are a bit more fun. Using a variety of methods of communication is important and mixing it up can help keep interactions fresh and engagement up.

At some point in the past few months, we’ve all dreaded the prospect of yet another Zoom call. But let’s also remember why video conferencing took off so broadly when lockdowns came: it’s important to see people when you’re connecting with them.

In lieu of life returning to normal, leaders can continue to draw on the four Cs and keep calm, clear, consistent lines of communication open with their teams.

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Leanne Pilkington

Leanne Pilkington is Chief Executive Officer and Director of Laing+Simmons.