All Articles Leadership Management When a crisis hits, a transformational positive influence leader steps up

When a crisis hits, a transformational positive influence leader steps up

There are several ways to be a positive influence. Here are examples from the coronavirus response.

8 min read


When a crisis hits, a transformational positive influence leader steps up

Jurica Koletic/Unsplash

When a crisis hits, we need leaders with different talents and styles to be positive influences on the organization. 

  • We need smart leaders who quickly master complex information, communicate it in terms easily understood and then are able to make it work to the benefit of the organization.
  • We need skilled leaders who can effectively communicate with large groups of people using modern communications technology.
  • We need analytical leaders who can quickly and accurately prioritize problems, mission-critical goals, tasks and expenses.
  • We need supportive leaders who can listen, empathize and articulate the emotions and stress felt by employees, customers and suppliers and then respond with a plan of action.
  • We need authentic leaders who are open and confident role models but who also get things done.

During our research for “Positive Influence: The Leader Who Helps People Become Their Best Self,” we found that there are four styles of positive influence leaders, all of whom can contribute to the success of an organization in different ways. A positive influence leader is supportive, an exceptional teacher, motivating and a confident role model. A transformational leader effortlessly alters their approach to provide just what the organization needs at the very time it is needed. They are situational.

The supportive positive influence leader

Many positive influence leaders are especially effective in communicating in an open and honest manner with employees and customers that “although things are tough now, I am here to support you for the duration of this crisis.” However, they also provide an honest assessment of the situation without minimizing or sugarcoating things.

In a crisis that involves some scary health and safety issues, the leader must make it abundantly clear that employee health is our number one concern over and above short-term profits and shareholder value.

Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA basketball team, is an excellent example of supportive positive influence leadership. When the NBA announced it was suspending the season due to the virus, one the first things that Cuban did was make it clear that all arena workers — ticket-takers, food and drink stand employees, maintenance staff — would be paid even if there were no games. Beyond that, Cuban has made it clear to other CEOs that “by doing the right thing with your employees, you do more to help stabilize the economy. And from there, we have a better chance of getting back to business as usual.

Cuban believes that consumers, especially young people, will remember how you acted during the crisis and make their future buying decisions based on that. Many people also want to work for an organization that cares about the community in which they live.

The supportive positive influence leader believes in their people, but perhaps more importantly, helps the people believe in themselves.

The teacher positive influence leader

Crisis situations often involve complex technical, scientific, financial and other similar issues that may be difficult to master, especially when under stress. The teacher leader is a positive influence in a crisis because they help you comprehend your situation by explaining things in terms you can understand.

Clarity is especially important because being acutely aware of your situation can reduce your anxiety and increase your ability to take concrete actions.

The most effective positive influence teachers do something more than teach. They awaken in you an active desire to learn, to develop your skills and knowledge to be your best self. You want to take responsibility for your personal development so you can better understand the crisis and take appropriate action.

There is no better example of a teacher positive influence leader than Dr. Anthony Fauci, the de facto leader of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. While he is the world’s leading expert on infectious diseases, it is his extraordinary ability to explain complicated medical issues in terms that the rest of us can understand that is his special skill. He is the gold standard in the world of public health and yet he still seems like good old Uncle Tony explaining to the kids how to throw a curve ball in the back yard after a family dinner.

The White House is taking advantage of Dr. Fauci’s communications skills using social media to reach young people via Instagram, YouTube and podcasts such as “Pardon My Take.”

The motivating positive influence leader

A crisis calls for a special variety of leadership. When disaster strikes, some people deny its existence, some get paralyzed with fear, some engage in risky behavior to show how tough they are and others wait to be told what to do. The most effective motivating leader inspires, pushes or perhaps pulls you to take the necessary actions. If you fail, she will pick you back up, help you learn from your mistakes (while admitting her mistakes, too) and get to see that success is still very much possible.

The effective positive influence leader is not necessarily a motivational speaker, but rather is a solid, practical, results-oriented person who will tell you what you need to hear and get you moving in the right direction.

One such person is Gina Raimondo, governor of Rhode Island, who got into a public squabble with Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York when she instituted a policy of stopping all cars with New York plates at the state border and requiring others who planned to stay in the state to quarantine themselves for 14 days. She later amended the order to apply to all out-of-state drivers.  Raimondo acted on the belief that her first responsibility is to protect the citizens of her state.

Positive influence leaders like the governor are calm and clear and willing to change course as warranted by the facts. For example, at first when tests were scarce, she strongly discouraged people with mild symptoms from seeking a test. Early this month, when the state was able to test more than 1,000 people per day, she said, “I no longer want you to be shy about coming forward if you think you have coronavirus symptoms.”

The role model positive influence leader

A positive influence role model can be a powerful force in an organization and in your life. They provide an example of how to be a successful leader especially in a time of crisis. You can choose to closely emulate the person, or you may elect to integrate some of their strengths while maintaining your unique style.

For many people, their role model is someone they have never met but have admired from afar. They learn by observing the person and researching how they handle various situations.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, few people outside of the army knew about Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, who has become a key leader in the fight against the virus and a role model to many. Semonite is the commanding general of the Army Corps of Engineers and leader of the mobilization to quickly build temporary hospitals to treat COVID-19 and non-COVID patients by converting existing convention centers, dorms and hotels.

In the rapidly evolving situation, he has demonstrated the very best in teamwork and collaboration by working seamlessly with federal agencies, governors, mayors and the White House task force.

The transformational positive influence leader

The transformational positive influence leader is equally comfortable and skilled at using any one of the four styles as dictated by the needs of the crisis. In addition, he is able to assess your needs at the moment and seamlessly adapt and alter his approach to provide just what you need and in a way that you can use it. In other words, he is situational.

Transformational leaders modify their approach based on the situation and the needs of the people in the organization. At times, he can be supportive (“you got this”), at other times, a teacher (“here are the facts as we know them now”), on occasion motivating (“this is your moment”) and, when necessary, a role model (“this is what I said we would do”).

Who is that transformational positive influence leader in this crisis?

People who have been nominated by me include:

  • Cuomo
  • Cuban
  • Chuck Robbins, CEO of Cisco Systems
  • Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House task force
  • Gretchen Whitmer, governor of Michigan
  • Gavin Newsom, governor of California
  • David Gibbs, CEO of Yum Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell)
  • Other people profiled in this article

How can you incorporate the traits each of these positive influence leaders possess into your leadership style?


Glenn Parker is an organizational development and team building consultant and author of some 16 books, including several best-sellers. For more stories of positive influence and how you can become a positive influence leader, learn more about and preorder the book co-authored by Glenn Parker and Michael Parker, “Positive Influence: The Leader Who Helps People Become Their Best Self” (HRD Press, 2020, forthcoming).

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