Creating a Strong Thinking Framework for Leadership Through the Crisis

May 6, 2020

In our white paper Navigating the Leadership Landscape Out of the Crisis, we discussed leaders’ need for a thinking framework. We described it as the roots of a tree – strengthening the leader (the trunk of the tree) to support the branches (different aspects of the organisation) with whatever the weather (the crisis) throws at them.

This framework creates a vital support environment for leaders to reflect and find clarity of thinking, take a breath to gain insights and strengthen their resilience. It helps them lead their organisations more effectively in the unfamiliar landscape.

This article shares further observations, insights and questions from the Merryck & Co team on key considerations for a strong and supportive thinking framework.

Putting your oxygen mask on first

In these uncertain times (the end of which is impossible to predict) leaders are being called on to calmly, courageously and resiliently lead their organisation forward. To achieve this, they have a responsibility to sustain and strengthen themselves first in order to help others. It means finding a way to put their metaphorical oxygen mask on first, before they start helping those around them to.

Of course this isn’t easy, given the barrage of demands and challenges leaders encounter.  The thinking framework creates a space for the leader to pause and consider their own personal energy.  It’s a space where they can evaluate how to eat, exercise, relax and sleep better (essential for a leader to perform at their best).

In his video Strengths Approach to Managing Stress, Chris Heinz discusses how leaders should review their strengths in relation to their current stress responses and then use them to aid others.  He outlines a 3-stage process focusing on the leader first:

  1. Awareness – understanding how your stress is triggered by looking through a strengths lens
  2. Applying – using your strengths to build your own resilience and manage stress
  3. Aiding – Using your strengths to help others

Without an environment to reflect, personally replenish and explore answers to key questions and concerns, it is hard for leaders to find the best paths for their organisations.

Questions to consider in your thinking framework

  • If I knew the crisis was going to last another 3 months what would I change now in my life so I could better manage the journey?(Repeat for a 6 months, 1 year, 2 year scenario)?
  • I know I have to think about the future and aspire to great things, but is my team exhausted and how will I know?

Drawing on strengths

Reflecting on our conversations with national and multinational organisations, everyone’s situation in the crisis is unique. For example, some multinational organisations have had to manage the pandemic at different stages across its territories.  The crisis does not bring a uniform experience and set of leadership challenges to every organisation.

Understanding their own strengths and those of their team can help leaders to respond more strategically to unique challenges and opportunities they face.  In their recent article 3 Strategies for Leading Effectively Amid COVID-19 – Gallup’s Vibhas Ratanjee and Vipula Gandhi discuss how effective leadership in the current climate engenders trust, shows compassion, provides stability and offers hope. That can be tough given leaders won’t necessarily have answers straight away. But through reflection, leaders can recognise and draw on their strengths and those in their team to consider possibilities.

Supporting the resilience of others

A number of leaders we speak with are leading an organisation where the working experience is not uniform.  Some teams have furloughed colleagues, some are on reduced hours, some are incredibly busy.  The new home-working environment (and leading the organisation ‘virtually’) also throws up mixed experiences.  Some people thrive and are immensely productive, others feel isolated and not as enabled as they did before.

This challenges leaders to reassure people through consistent messages, but to communicate in a way which resonates with the different experiences and perceptions of different people and stakeholders. Get this right and the effect can be hugely motivational, reassuring and a boost to people’s resilience.

Questions to consider in your thinking framework

  • How well is our leadership team thinking about others, their strengths and capabilities and extending help to others?
  • How can I help colleagues to support each other more, given everyone is responding differently to the crisis?

Beware busyness addiction

The pace of the crisis has forced organisations to react at great speed. In little time, leaders have had to make major decisions to help safeguard their organisations.

There’s no question that leaders are busy, but many leaders we speak with question whether they are putting their time to best use.  This touches on Stephen Covey’s observations that people get addicted to ‘busyness’ per se and this can prevent them tackling tougher and more strategic and important issues.  Leaders are right to regularly question what the best use of their time for the organisation’s wellbeing is.

The thinking framework prompts leaders to stop, stand back and review what they should prioritise.  It also helps them evaluate busyness addiction across the organisation.

Questions to consider in your thinking framework

  • Where are people’s responses to the current threats of the crisis diverting activity away from what’s beneficial for the organisation?
  • How can I inspire high performance and better focused productivity through play, potential and purpose?

An independent thinking partner in the thinking framework

One leader told us that spending 10 mins at the start and end of the day in reflection and thinking has helped to steady them and make them more effective.

Others have told us their thinking framework benefits from the support of a thinking partner. This tends to be someone outside of the organisation (such as a mentor, coach, peer, relative) who brings an independent and objective view.  The thinking partner doesn’t advise or consult. Instead, through questioning, discussions and conversations, they support the leader to think more clearly in the current maelstrom.

Leaders say this is hugely supportive as it enables them to

  1. Decompress from the immediate stresses and pressures
  2. Move away from their emergency reactions to the crisis’ threats
  3. Gain clarity to find more beneficial thinking and courses of action for their wellbeing and that of the organisation.


The current crisis presents challenges and opportunities beyond leaders’ past experiences, wisdom and assumptions. It requires huge demands as people look to them for guidance, courage and resilience to ensure the organisation navigates through the uncertainty.

Leaders greatly benefit from having their unique thinking framework – an environment to gain clarity and resilience to tackle the short-term crisis effectively. It is also where they can start to find the vision and purpose that will help the organisation to thrive longer-term.

About Merryck & Co.

Merryck & Co. has been helping organisations for 20 years accelerate the impact of leadership. Merryck & Co. is a global firm of experienced CEOs and top business leaders who bring an operator’s lens to executive development. Their services focus on succession, senior leadership development, strategic enterprise transformation, and emerging leadership development. The firm’s clients include some of the most successful executives within the highest-performing companies in the world, boards of directors, and select teams of individuals. For more information please visit:

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