Intentional Leadership


One of the hottest topics for me as a coach over recent weeks has been about the role of leadership in a crisis. It's a question I have thought a lot about and one thing I am sure of, I don't have all the answers. What I do know is that leading through and out of a crisis is not easy. The uncertainty a crisis brings can leave people feeling disorientated, overwhelmed and unable to act. Intentional leadership is key in these times and those leaders who are able to slow down, step back and challenge their perspectives and exercise their mindset muscles are the ones most likely to succeed and thrive. The question is how? Here are a few points to start you thinking:


Our perspectives are the way we see the world; they are shaped by our life experiences. Whether we are leading our self or leading others in times of uncertainty, one of the best things we can do is to slow down, step back and challenge our perspectives.

Slowing down and stepping back to challenge our perspectives might seem counterintuitive in the midst of what appears to be a crisis, but what we see is foundational to everything. The way we see things influences the way we think about things (our mindset), which determines what we do and the results we get.

One of the most effective tools I have found to help here is former fighter pilot in the United States Air Force and a famous military strategist John Boyd’s OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act). The OODA Loop was a concept that Boyd developed and used in combat operations to improve decision making and agility. Today this tool has been adopted more

broadly in the business world to help organisations and individuals to improve decision making and increase agility in a rapidly evolving world. Here are the four stages of the OODA Loop:

· Observe: This is where we slow down and step back. Questions to ask here are, "what kind of situation is this", “is this a real crisis, or a problem to be solved?”

· Orient: Here we consider questions like: “what will help in this situation”, “what resources do we have?”, “what do we know?”, “what are we assuming?” and “are we aligned to our purpose and values?”

· Decide: This is the direction we are going to take based upon the first two stages

· Act: This is where we test our hypothesis. However, this is not the end of the loop. As with any process the information we gather creates opportunities for new learning and so the loop begins again

One of the main advantages of the OODA Loop is that it is simple. Some might argue too simple. However, in the context of promoting the habit of slowing down and stepping back to gain perspective for me, it is just the ticket.


Our mindset is the way we think about things and it is shaped by our perspectives. Like the muscles in our bodies our mindset muscles get stronger when we exercise them. Here are four mindset muscles I believe are critical to leading yourself, your team and business through and out of a crisis.

  • Purposeful: The first step is to adopt a purposeful mindset e.g. doing the things that serves you, your team and your business best. You can start by reminding yourself and your team why what you are doing is important, what problems you are here to solve and the impact you desire to make.

  • Understanding: In challenging times the hardest things can sometimes be the softest things. Knowing the perspectives, mindsets, talents, skills and needs of your team is critical to leadership success. People want to feel like they are understood. Take the first 5 minutes in your one to ones with employees to inquire about none work issue and ask them for feedback on how you could be communicating better right now.

  • Reality: Balancing optimism and realism is the key to leading well in a crisis. People thrive on optimism, but optimism alone is not enough. Optimism must be blended with realism. Effective leaders don’t ‘sugar coat’ facts, they explain things as they are and they also know that it’s okay not to have all the facts. They also use language that helps people understand that they can get through the crisis and how they can contribute to finding solutions to daily challenges.

  • Agility: The way in which you behave in the midst of crisis matters. How your team sees you respond to the current situation will have a huge impact on their behaviour. This is where agility becomes more crucial than ever. I have found the 4C Framework of Mental Toughness a super useful way to understand, develop and demonstrate agility in times of challenge and uncertainty. An outline of the 4C framework and some questions to consider are below:

Control: This is the sense of control we have over our life and our emotions.

Q. "How is your team culture a reflection of who you are and how you lead?"

Commitment: This is your focus and reliability.

Q. "Do you have good routines and habits that enable you to be successful?"

Challenge: Challenge is your drive and how you respond to change.

Q. "How comfortable are you being uncomfortable?"

Confidence: Confidence is your self-belief and influence. 

Q. "How effective are you in overcoming self-doubts when they creep into your mind?"

For more information on the OODA Loop, the 4C model and the concept of Mental Toughness please check out the references below.


  • Rate yourself on a 1-10 scale on each mindset where one is the low and ten is high.

  • If you rated yourself low for any of the four mindsets identify at least ONE specific intentional step you can take to improve in this area.


I hope the ideas I have shared within this post have been useful, if you take away anything I hope that it is the need to adopt a YOU FIRST mentality, when we step back, slow down and challenge our perspectives and exercise our mindset muscles our team members do too. This in my view is the key to succeeding and thriving through and out of a crisis.

Darren Whysall

Executive Coach | Coach Supervisor, Barclays UK


  1. Coram, R,. (2002) Boyd The Fighter Pilot Who Changed The Art of War. Time Warner Book Group. NY.

  2. Strycharczyk, D. and Clough, P., (2015) Developing Mental Toughness: Coaching Strategies to Improve Performance, Resilience and Wellbeing: Kogan Page Ltd. UK.

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