Clarity, Courage and Calm under Chaos – crucial leadership traits now

As the world faces so much uncertainty and many difficult decisions are having to be made as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, now more than ever people are looking to their leaders for direction. What traits are leaders like those in our nonprofit community needing to draw on at this critical time?

An article in Real Leaders magazine entitled: How 66 CEOs and Executives are Leading from Home sheds some light on the key attributes these 66 leaders are using to lead their organizations through the current crisis remotely.

While it appears that over-communicating is one of their biggest priorities, what I wanted to share with you were the top four qualities that these CEO’s seem to have in common, all of which are traits that people most often look for in a leader – honesty, competence, inspirational, and forward-looking.

Why does this matter right now? Because if leaders in our community can focus on these four traits as they lead their organizations through this crisis, it may help them to gain perspective and perhaps approach actions more confidently. I’ve highlighted the top four, what the CEO’s said and I’ve given you some thoughts on why they matter.


CEO’s: Be honest, vulnerable and transparent; truth-telling; communicate clearly and openly, authentic, empathetic; Lean into the uncomfortable and emotional work; visual communication.

Honesty is the number one trait people look for in a leader. To be confident in their leaders, people want to know their leadership shows integrity and high character. This is always important, especially in times of uncertainty and instability.


CEO’s: Give your team a strong purpose; lead by example, don’t give advice, set an example; make bold decision; rally around your mission; Be the comforter and chief.

People are not looking for their leaders to be experts in core areas of the business. They must have confidence that their leaders have the skills and knowledge to understand the fundamentals of their business, their culture and their people. People want to believe their leaders have the knowhow to lead the organization through the challenges that lie ahead.


CEO’s: Be a shining light that supports others; Reconnect and realign people with your core values; Understand their fears; Keep yourself and your team resilient; show gratitude; lead with compassion; listen for understanding; end each day posting something you are grateful for; keep yourself and team resilient.

When people are worried, frightened and uncertain about the future, they often struggle to focus on the possibilities of tomorrow. Fear does not motivate people to move ahead, make decisions and be optimistic that barriers will be overcome. This is crucial at any time, but in times of uncertainty, leading with positive emotions is absolutely essential to moving people upward and forward with courage.


CEO’s: Create a 90-day roadmap; Reinforce organizational priorities; Keep people engaged; Invest in solutions; Be the deep rudder for the humanity in your organization and community; Remind them of the importance of what they do; strengthen culture and community even while being remote.

This leadership quality is probably the most distinguishing attribute of a leader. This is also a tough one in times of uncertainty and crisis. Leaders must have a point of view about the future envisioned for their organizations and they must be able to connect that point of view to their constituents. As my colleague Jane always says: “If you have a plan, you can always change it.” What’s important now is that you and your team have a sense of direction.


Together, these four characteristics of a leader represent credibility. When we believe a leader is credible then in uncertain times, we can feel more secure because credibility leads to trust. The basis for credibility is earned when people trust you and acknowledge that you possess the expertise to get things done. Now is a good time to continue to build that trust.

As one CEO stated: Leadership is a test of clarity, courage and calm under chaos. All of which we need today as we lead our nonprofits and other organizations through these unprecedented and uncertain times.

Posted in Communication, Leadership, Nonprofit Leadership and tagged , , .