‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ – The Core Skills Required of a Remote Leader in a Crisis

by | Aug 15, 2019

Last month I went away on holiday, leaving sons 23 & 21 in charge of; the house, the three multigenerational dogs (one is Terry, a 5-month-old lurcher puppy), the cat and the fish.

Being a control freak, I left lists, contingency food for all inhabitants and spare cash. Now, importantly, sons, 23 and 21, respectively, both have good habits and are very trustworthy.


So, I had just arrived at my hotel after a long night travelling by taxi, plane and car. I had checked in and I was ready for a nap in the very welcoming hotel bed, with crisp white sheets and plumped up pillows, and the air con whirring away, it was all very inviting.

Next thing;

Message – son 21 sends picture of puppy sat on the mat, inside the house, behind the patio door, with the door closed

Me – Arghhh sweet

Message – do you have the cleaner’s number so that I can get the key from her, I’m locked out. Terry has jumped up and knocked the door handle so I can’t get back in.

Me – WHAT??

Phone call to son 21;

Him, very cross, ‘I’m outside, in my shorts and no T shirt, I was washing the other two dogs who got muddy on the walk, I left Terry inside for a minute and he’s locked me out‘

(Interesting observation from husband at this point …’he managed to remember his phone’ – which was not a helpful interjection)

Me, equally irritated, ‘the cleaner is on holiday abroad this week, so we have no access to a spare key’ …

It may be helpful to STOP at this point and recap. Picture the scene. Son 21 is locked out on the patio in just his shorts with the two older dogs, while Terry the lurcher pup is locked inside the house with free reign for chaos, and we are abroad. Son 23 is at work, miles away from home that day and offline because of his remote job. Oh, and did I mention, it was raining hard.

This situation calls for the core skills of a remote leader in a crisis!


These days more and more leaders are finding themselves in virtual leadership situations, where they or their direct reports work in remote locations. Separated in space and sometimes in time zones, everyone finds it difficult to communicate effectively, stay aligned to each other and achieve the desired goals. It can be difficult to assess performance, clarify priorities, and meet expectations, remotely.

One of the dictionary definitions of remote is “operating effectively from a distance.” This is of course the primary objective in a virtual relationship: to have coordination and control situations as well from a distance as you can when you are up close.


The thing about crises is that they are unplanned, novel and provide the element of risk. Often, we are dealing with the unknown unknowns and as with all things, time keeps ticking on, often making the situation worse.

Crises calls for brave leadership, where someone needs to be prepared to take on the mantle and respond effectively and think quickly.
However, being a remote leader just exacerbates the problems people face in a crisis. As the leader you can’t see what they can see, hear what they are hear, smell, feel or touch any of it. You are, de facto, removed.

So, what can you do;

  1. Don’t panic
  2. Make yourself acutely aware of the situation they are in. Ask as many questions as you can, to find out as much as you can
  3. Recognise the trust you have built up with the people you are speaking to, who are your team. Let them know you trust them
  4. Keep moving forward in your thinking
  5. Anticipate the possible consequences
  6. Be adaptable and think creatively about the options you have
  7. Improvise, have a plan A and a plan B
  8. Communicate clearly and concisely
  9. Assess which course of action to take
  10. ACT

If the action fails, don’t dwell on it (FAIL FAST) & just revisit the 10 steps again.

We know that crises cannot be spotted either by the team or by outsiders. All you can do in those cases is to be resilient and flexible, so that you can cope with the impact of the unexpected, wherever it comes from.

In the compressed time frame of a crisis, it can feel like you are in a fog, or trying to assemble a plane and fly it at the same time! The secret is to remember all that you have rehearsed before, the times when you have kept control and the times when you have had great success. Keeping your head when all about you are losing theirs is a core leadership skill and one to be applauded.


I didn’t panic, I stayed remarkably calm and phoned the cleaner, who was in a swimming pool in Spain. I explained the situation and we laughed (did I mention a sense of humour sometimes helps?). The cleaner explained that her keys were with her mum, who was looking after her house and her dog. I then phoned son 21 and said that the cleaner was going to phone her mum. Meanwhile, son 21 had phoned his friend who had driven around, with a spare T -shirt. The cleaner tracked down her mum and phoned me back. Son 21’s friend then stayed on the patio with two dogs, watching the puppy through the patio door, while son 21 drove his friends car to the cleaners house to meet her mum , who gave him all the possible keys in her possession and he returned home to let himself into the house. Crisis Over.

No one got hurt. The puppy was excitedly reunited with everyone. He hadn’t made a mess, eaten or damaged anything in the meantime.

I went to bed for my nap.


In terms of our domestic risk management, we now have contingencies for the keys to the house.


Vanessa is a very experienced HR Professional with a career spanning over 30 years. Prior to setting up Imago HR she worked for many years as a senior HR leader, providing a compassionate and pragmatic approach to people management. Click on her website to find out more about the Imago HR service www.imagohr.com