Being a leader in good times is not that hard. In fact, it can be a blast – things are going well, the business is growing and making money, team and customers are happy, opportunity abounds, all of your decisions are the right ones, and the whole team is looking up to you as an awesome leader. And your golf game is better than ever.
What’s not to like?
However, during challenging times, being a leader can be pretty tough. Not only are you facing the full responsibility for the outcomes of your decisions, but some of those decisions will also be unpopular, even alienating to team members.
Maintaining team cohesion, alignment, and morale can be difficult. Challenges with profitability and cashflow, and pressure from lenders can be stressful. Your team may be questioning your judgement, playing politics and looking to jump ship for other opportunities.
Your stress levels may create challenges at home as you try to balance the needs of the business and the needs of your family.
What’s not to like?
Being a leader during times of challenge or crisis, is where you sink or swim. I want to share with you some of the strong leadership traits I have seen over my nearly 30 years of working with business owners:
- Own the results
The buck stops with you, and while things may be happening in your business that you did not directly cause, you need to own your response to what happened and the outcome arising from your actions. When your team sees you owning your results with integrity, they will follow suit. Personal accountability breeds team accountability. Dance like everyone is watching, because they are.
- Develop and execute a plan
Don’t try to lead your business without goals and a plan that you and your team can align around. If you have a plan, don’t keep it locked away in your head. Share it with your team. Help them develop plans and KPIs for their area of responsibility that align with the overall goals needing to be accomplished. The team needs to know you have a plan and are confident in it.
Regularly. It’s important as you work through challenging times to have a two way flow of information between you and your team. Effective team members want to contribute and solve challenges, so establish meeting rhythms where goal status is reported, information and can be exchanged, the team can come together, actions steps can be determined, and team members can ask for the support they need to meet their objectives.
- Tell it like it is
Don’t sugar coat things. Your team will see reality for what it is soon enough, so be honest with them, and trust them to keep their communication honest and clear with you too.
- Inspire confidence in your team
During challenging times, you may not be the only one questioning your decisions and actions – your team may also wonder if they are doing the right things. In fact, they could be suffering from anxiety around this, wondering if they will be on the chopping block if they make a mistake. Let them know you see them, that you value them. Find them doing things right and give them the recognition they deserve.
- Be decisive
When times are challenging, it’s not uncommon to second guess yourself. That’s why it’s so important to have a team that will communicate with you openly and honestly, and ensure you have the data and situational awareness you need to make the right decisions. The decisions you make may not be easy ones, but if you have a clear picture of the situation, they are much easier to make.
- Live your Core Values
Your Core Values are the behaviours you and your team have committed to living. Respect and uphold them, regardless of the challenges you are facing. If your Core Values are well thought out and alive in your organization, you will have much better alignment and cohesion in your team and will have a basis for decision making – especially the tough decisions. If you make decisions based on your Core Values, it is easier to justify why tough decisions have been made, and it preserves your integrity as a leader.
- Be grateful
Express your gratitude to your team, customers and stakeholders. Your team are giving up a large percentage of their waking hours, their energy, their best thinking and their physical effort to help you grow your company. Let them know how much they are valued and appreciated. Tell them sincerely and often.
Greg Brenneman, who was hired as President and CEO to turn around the failing Continental Airlines in the 1990s, says:
I think that’s an excellent quote to keep in mind as we lead our teams through challenging times. In other words – be the leader you would work for!