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Leading in a Time of Crisis

Anne Chow, CEO of AT&T Business, reflects on nine essential characteristics vital to lead through choppy, and often treacherous waters that accompany crises.
By AT&T |

At the recent D CEO Women’s Leadership Symposium, I had the pleasure of speaking to 600+ women, and several male allies, about leading in a time of crisis. Apropos in a time when several crises are converging: a global pandemic, economic recession, racial inequality, and social injustices, are those most top of mind.

I’ve often been asked about what traits I look for in a leader. Over the decades, I’ve anchored (pun intended) to what I call the 7Cs of leadership. If you’re interested in navigating these 7Cs, find them here to help guide you as a leader and as a supporter of leaders. Of course, there are many other characteristics of great leaders – and in times of crisis, certain characteristics emerge as crucial to moving forward through choppy, often treacherous waters. As such, I’ve added to the core seven to form the “Sweet 16 Cs” of leadership in a time of crisis.

During times like these, it’s only natural for people to experience fear, doubt, mistrust, instability, and more. We naturally look to leadership for understanding, guidance, and, importantly, hope. No question that during stressful times, leadership carries additional responsibility to ensure that hope emerges, in a pragmatic, not Pollyanna way. There are nine essential leadership characteristics I feel differentiates extraordinary leaders – and by the way, women leaders are made for this:


Compassion and empathy are both key. Leaders must demonstrate an ability to relate to others – not only as a team, group, or community – but as individuals. And ultimately, it’s about caring.


When connected, we feel more trusting, stronger, cooperative, and supported. Connection is necessary in life – as we’ve become even more acutely aware during our current crisis. We must work hard to cultivate connection – and it’s a necessary skill to becoming a compassionate, empathetic leader.

Conviction and Consistency

Your beliefs and passion help overcome internal and external resistance. Your steadiness and courageousness, especially in times of duress, can be an inspiration in and of itself to the people around you.

Confidence, Clarity, and Calm

Self-confidence generates internal & external clarity and a sense of calm (by the way, neuroscience tells us women handle stress better than men). These characteristics must manifest themselves in your communications and be in visible aspects of your persona.


To truly understand the impact of crises, we must do so through the lens of color. Not all communities are impacted equally; in fact, communities of color are often disproportionately impacted. To unleash the power of the people, every leader must embrace diversity, inclusion, and belonging – both in their words and their actions. Color, both figuratively and literally, is an integral part of each of us being our own unique selves. And together, we are stronger.


Do what you were meant to do. Do what you can uniquely do. Live with intention. Leave your legacy imprint on this world.

Now is the time to learn, listen, seek to understand, engage, and importantly, to act. Great leadership is about all hearts, minds, and souls – and each heart, mind, and soul. It’s about individuals, teams, organizations, communities, and society as a whole. It’s about all of us and each of us. And together, we can do anything.

I’ll end here as I did in my keynote: Do the job. Answer your calling. Pursue your work. Live on purpose.

P.S. there was so much more to discuss – Cynt Marshall and I continued the conversation here.

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