Great Leadership for Challenging Times

updated 3/23/2020

Here are 10 tips for leading in challenging times. They may not be any no better or worse than the rest, but they resonate for me, and I sincerely hope they will for you too.

1. Work hard and perform. Wow, isn’t that profound? I’m serious, though. As leaders, these are times that require sacrifice, hard work, and perseverance. This is how battles are won and great companies get turned around. It’s the collective hard work from each and every one of us, especially our leaders. No one’s going to put in the extra effort if they see their leaders coasting.

2. Radiate confidence and optimism. Another well known blogger said that if a CEO did this, it showed he was clueless. I strongly disagree. Our people need to see that their leaders are not afraid, that we believe in our organization, and that we are committed to success. In recent SmartBreif reader poll, most business leaders said the media’s focus on the negative is hurting businesses. I think it’s true for leaders too – fear and pessimism will make your situation worse.

3. Transparency. On the other hand… that doesn’t mean we hide the truth and sugar coat bad news. We can do both. Let people know exactly what the situation is and what needs to be done. Ask for their help. Yes, they can “handle the truth”, and once they get over it, will want to pitch in and be willing to sacrifice in the short term for the greater good.

4. Enlist your team’s help. Give them a sense of control, something to do to help make a difference, even if it’s just a small difference. In a crisis, leaders make sure everyone is focused and engaged.

5. Avoid finger-pointing. Don’t bad mouth your manager, your company, your competition, the government or your co-workers. Don’t point fingers, make excuses, or look for pity or a bailout. Focus on what you and your team can do, and offer to help your manager and co-workers.

6. Protect your employees. I realize employers are having to make some tough decisions in order to keep their business afloat. I’ve heard the stories about employers delaying or rescinding job offers after a candidate has already left their current employer. Just keep in mind, this too shall pass, and at some point employers will be competing again for top talent. Same goes for the way you treat your customers and the community.

7. Tough times are an opportunity to drive change and innovation. No one wants to listen to your radical ideas during good times – there’s no reason to change. Just be smart about it. I’m not talking about panic-driven change, rather well though out process improvements and innovation. It’s a great opportunity to ask “what if…”, and “why not?” The move to telehealth is a one example.

8. Now’s the time to collaborate across functions. Big problems require big, enterprise-wide solutions, so tear down the walls and start working across boundaries. Think task forces, committees, action learning, and Kaizen workshops. Even sworn enemies should be able to band together to fight off an invasion of a common foe.

9. Communicate, communicate, and communicate some more. I’ve already written about it.

10. It’s a leadership development opportunity – really! As leaders, we all need to learn how to lead during tough times, and how to turn around a struggling organization. It’s a required course in your leadership curriculum. Ask yourself; ten years from now, what would I have liked to learn from all this? And more importantly, how would you like this chapter to read when your leadership biography is written?

Hang in there; stand tall; and LEAD.