Two Tools to Help Leaders Grow in Times of Crisis: Anticipation and Reflection

Key Takeaways:

  • Leaders have the opportunity to grow during times of crisis.
  • Significant growth comes from our experiences.
  • The best way to leverage these times of growth is to anticipate what we can learn and then reflect on our insights.

Leading in times of crisis can be extraordinarily stressful and demanding. So, is there an upside for leaders during the COVID-19 pandemic?

There is. If they see it as an opportunity to grow.

There is significant evidence that tells us leaders grow from their experiences.  In fact, leaders’ most formative insights come from challenging assignments, relationships with other people with whom they work and the adversity they face.

There’s no denying that this pandemic is a time of hardship, not just in our personal lives but at work as well. Teams are dispersed, unemployment is at historical levels and elements of our future are unknown. But within this hardship is an opportunity for every leader to see this time as an opportunity for growth and lean into that challenge.

The question then becomes: How can leaders best learn from this challenging time?

There are two activities that are critical to helping leaders realize the benefits of any developmental activity: anticipation and reflection. And they can be especially useful when leaders consider how they can best grow from this experience.

Let’s start with anticipation.

Anticipate what you hope to learn. Go into this experience with an open mind but also a specific curiosity about a topic that would benefit you. Anticipating what we can learn focuses our efforts and brings our attention to the possibilities for growth.

Think about the opportunities that might exist for you and how the current situation could offer you the chance to stretch yourself and try new skills.

Do you want to become even more effective at managing your energy? Would you benefit from having more productive challenging conversations? How would your team improve if you found new ways to engage and inspire them? How can you better articulate a vision for the future in times of ambiguity?

And then reflect.

Reflect along the way. What are you learning? What is going well? What has been most challenging? Where could you use some support or a feedback partner? And ultimately, where will you be able to apply the lessons you’ve learned in the future so you can take action?

Unsurprisingly, most of the leaders with whom I work have shifted the focus of our discussions to the topic of leading during a crisis. One of my clients is leading a large, newly virtual team and finds the situation to have a number of challenges she hasn’t faced before.

We have spent time on anticipation: making a list of the biggest obstacles in front of her and connecting them to the areas in which she would like to grow as a leader. After we finished this activity, she told me that those obstacles would still be there, but now they seemed more like opportunities that could move her forward.

And every week, we reflect together on what she is learning and how it will make her an even better leader.

Leadership is forged in times of crisis. Time will tell us who led others well, who made great decisions and who inspired their followers to go to a visionary future. We will be remembered for how we managed ourselves and also how we interacted with others during this crisis.

This time is challenging, but it’s also an opportunity for growth if we look at it that way.

We can see this as an opportunity to grow instead of retreat. Anticipation and reflection can help us get the most out of this time.


  1. Koehn, N.F.(2017). Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times. New York: Scribner.
  2. McCall, M. W., Lombardo, M. M., & Morrison, A. M. (1988).The lessons of experience: How successful executives develop on the job. Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books.


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