Brian Tracy, the famous motivational speaker said: “The true test of leadership is how well you function in a crisis.” His words haven’t resonated more than they do today.

For the first time in our lives, the world instead of being in conflict seems to be slowly uniting against one big crisis: COVID-19.

What does it mean to be a leader in a time of crisis?

The competencies required are different from standard operating leadership protocols. In the current environment, it is about managing crisis and navigating through feelings of anxiety, hopelessness, and doom. However this is also a good time for the emergence of “crisis leaders”. These crisis leaders show the world, that they are capable of weathering a storm, navigating the organisations, businesses or teams they lead by: a) being decisive, b) being proactive, c) modelling expected protocol, d) engaging in open communication, and e) being ethical and empathetic.

Being decisive includes stringent measures to achieve larger and long-term objectives in spite of short-term inconveniences and unpopularity. It also means the ability to cope and manage the irritations, accusations and anger of some members of the community. Take the example of the Kerala government taking the lead in closing borders and forbidding residents from moving out of their homes despite opposition and uproar.

Being proactive highlights the importance of taking stock in a crisis and reviewing priorities. In a crisis, priorities can be vastly different from those in a “normal circumstance”. An effective leader will be able to navigate priorities and be flexible accounting for current needs the situation demands instead of being rigid and following an already structured plan that has been already set in place. For instance, leaders in the medical and related fields for instance, who may need to put aside their fears and apprehensions in order to lead their teams from the front.

The current need for social distancing is an example under modelling of protocol. As leaders we need to convey to the larger community by practising the protocol instead of merely mouthing instructions. Political leaders travelling with large entourages need to minimise numbers. This conveys commitment and consistency of the leader.

Open communication includes the ability to share openly the way ahead for the organisation, the vulnerabilities, fears and apprehensions being felt by every stakeholder. Leaders need to provide a safe space that is empathetic and non-judgemental for a dialogue to happen.

Ethical leaders do not capitalise on crisis. Some of the current social media campaigns appear to be insensitive and encouraging retail therapy which is harmful. Take a step back and unless you are in the medical profession this is not the time to ride the wave. Increasing the price of essential commodities to make short term profit, is not going to win you any brownie points in the long run.

This Nigerian proverb says it best, “In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build dams”.

As a leader, have you built your bridge?

Views are personal.

The author is chairperson of the board of trustees of The Live Love Laugh Foundation

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