Leading in Difficult Times
Whether your company is going through a business transformation or a major crisis, leaders need to lead. You often don’t see the change coming and may not be prepared. But when a crisis occurs, it’s time to unify your team and do what you can to help those around you with the difficult and important decisions that must be made. What are the steps leaders take during a crisis to pivot focus, create a successful mindset, establish clear communication, and step up?
When there is a crisis, how can you become a more agile leader, team, and organization?
Here are a few suggestions.
Support others. During times of uncertainty, many leaders fail to support each other. You must recognize and resist this temptation, as it’s easy to point fingers and jockey for position. Support your people, peers, and other leaders who need guidance and assistance. It’s critical not to bury yourself in your office. You need to remain externally-focused, so you can anticipate and pivot quickly when needed.
Be authentic. Be who you are. Continue to demonstrate the values, qualities, talents, and experiences that people already appreciate about you. Understand how others see and perceive you as a leader. Become more self-aware to understand how you and the messages you are sending are impacting others. Ask for feedback and input on your approach, how you communicate, and how you are leading.
Create stability. People need stability from you during times of chaos. Keep your managers close to their people, customers, and the marketplace. Have them continue to focus on daily tasks and deliverables. Encourage people to generate innovative ideas and to challenge the status quo. A team that feels safe is willing to take risks to achieve more and think differently, even through tough times.
Build trust. Trust your people with their decisions, actions, and responsibilities. Relationships need to be cultivated, and a downturn is the worst possible time to slash leadership and team-building budgets, if avoidable. People will hold you accountable to what you say and do, and what they believe you mean or do.
Communicate. When you are in the middle of a firestorm, it’s easy to want to rush out with information. Slow things down. At the same time, communicate clearly, concisely, openly, and frequently. When there’s a void of information, people will create their own story. The story they create can be significantly worse than reality.
Stay true to your core. Your purpose, mission, and values are more important than ever and should be the north star that guides your decision making. Your actions and your organization’s actions should reflect these. Making purposeful decisions based on the company’s mission and values will motivate teams to work toward a common goal. This is a good time to reflect on your organization’s mission and purpose.
Lead with compassion. You may know what your company needs, but do you know what your people need? Taking the time to really listen to your people and be empathetic. Show them you care about their perspectives. Let their insights play a role in your decision making, so they feel heard, and recognize that people have different coping mechanisms to handle pressure, stress, and anxiety.
Prioritize your wellbeing. As we discussed in chapter 7 regarding triggers, manage your emotions, and stay calm. Anticipate the unexpected during uncertain and unpredictable times. Modeling negativity, erratic behavior, and a lack of composure will cause your people to internalize and mimic this to others. Ensure you’re prioritizing your mental and physical health so you can be present and effective.
Be the example. As a leader, you often forget that all eyes are on you. This is especially true as situations escalate. In such moments, people look to you, evaluating your words, actions, and body language for interpretation and direction. Be confident, positive, optimistic, and demonstrate what’s possible. Think of an emergency room of nurses and doctors trying to save a patient.
Let go. During significant turbulence, some leaders tend to assert control, taking away their people’s decision-making responsibilities to minimize risk. Ensure that the hierarchy and your need to control don’t stifle the emergence of the best people with the best ideas. Talent will reveal itself during a crisis, and the strongest leadership will come from those with and without leadership titles. Don’t stand in the way of the “stars in the making” that can emerge.
Create alignment. When the senior team is not aligned, it reverberates throughout the organization. Gain alignment on a shared vision, strategy, talent, and culture relative to how you will execute. Be able to describe what success looks like. Who will be accountable and responsible for what? What’s the plan? How will you get there? Be flexible, agile, and prepared to pivot when needed.
Be tough. Being a tough leader means making hard decisions, coping with adversity, and demanding top performance from employees. There’s no shame in getting knocked down—and it will happen, especially during a difficult time. What matters is what you do next. Get back into the game and keep fighting. That requires resilience, an ability to flex with adversity, and perseverance when the going gets rough.
Be decisive. People will expect actions and decisions from you. You want to avoid analysis paralysis. Entrust experts if and when needed. Assimilate the information, ask for recommendations and counsel, then listen to your instincts and experiences to make a decision.
Protect the culture. Focus on your culture, people, and values. Challenge yourself and your team on what needs to change about your culture to address your needs of the future. Keep faith in the future.
Leading in difficult times requires courage, emotional intelligence, and integrity. Be humble and prepared, and don’t panic. Be resolute in pursuing the principles you believe are right, even in the face of opposition.