Originally Published 03/16/2020
Our country has been through many difficult times including the World War I, Great Depression, World War 2, Stagflation and oil shortages of the 70s, The Cold War, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Global Financial Crisis and now the Coronavirus pandemic.
In times like these all need leadership to guide us through fear and panic. Difficult times are not only times of national crisis, but also for internally difficult times for your own firm, such as a merger, a security leak or other events. As a leader, here are 5 key traits you can use to lead your people through difficult times.
1. Be Honest
Your character as a leader is the foundation to which you lead from. John Maxwell says “leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” That influence is what causes people to follow you. If they do not believe you then you will have no influence.
In difficult times, it can be tempting to not be honest as a leader. A lot of times this comes from good intentions. You may feel that you will cause more panic if you are honest or that others cannot handle the truth. However, you must be transparent and honest with your team. Get the right information and share it with them. The second they find out you were not honest with the information you provided you will lose your influence.
Honesty does not come only in the information you provide, but through your actions. If you tell your team during this crisis that we ask that you wash your hands for example and you are not washing your hands, this will be make the information you shared and instructions you gave seem meaningless.
2. Be Empathetic
Empathy in my opinion is one of the most misunderstood and misused words in our society (along with ignorant). Empathy, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”. Simply put, it’s trying to understand another person’s worldview. How we look at facts is shaped by our unique personalities, experiences and personal situations.
In difficult times, its important as a leader to understand what your team is going through. They may be incurring substantial financial difficulties, under a lot of stress, and possibly dealing with doubt, fear and anxiety. It’s important to understand these issues are shaping their worldview.
The other part of empathy as a leader in difficult times is to let others know you are human and experiencing issues as well. It is ok to be fearful and show you understand the fears, anxiety and stress your team is enduring and that you are not immune to them either. Acting like you do not have the same problems will make you not as a relatable, which erodes the trust you have and compromises your influence.
Lastly, use that empathy to understand how decisions you make will impact your team and work to ensure your teams health, personal finances and well being are protected to the best of your ability.
3. Be Proactive
In difficult times, the absence of information will lead people to make up their own narratives and jump to conclusions. Rumors and false information always spread rapidly in an organization, but it spreads faster in difficult times as people are faced with fear. As a leader we not only need to communicate to our teams as fast as possible. Even if we do not have a resolution or information at that time its important to let them know you are working on it and what steps you are taking to come up with a solution.
Once you have an action plan its important to communicate it promptly and clearly with your team. Many leaders in difficult times take a “wait and see” approach and they stop the flow of communication, which causes backdoor channels of false communication and false conclusions.
In addition to being prompt and clear with your message, it’s also important to be constant and consistent. We, as humans, have short term memory and only retain a portion of what we hear. To stop the flow of false information, it’s important to communicate with stakeholders as much as you can. Daily communication is vital in difficult times.
4. Be Visionary
As humans we suffer from recency bias. In other words, we remember what we have just experienced and forget things we have experienced in the past. In difficult times, we tend to think whatever is happening has never happened before and cannot be solved. As a leader, I believe one of the most important things you can do during any time is cast vision, but this is even more important in difficult times. You must paint a clear picture of a preferred future that all stakeholders will want to move towards and have a clear path to get there.
This vision should be positive and unwavering. Its ok to be vulnerable and show fear about the current times, but you must be confident about the future and the path to get there together.
Hope and fear are in my opinion the two most powerful human emotions. Fear grows in the present and hope flourishes in the future. With a clear, consistent and confident vision you can provide your team with the power of hope which will trample fear and propel your team forward! Hope, in my opinion, is the best remedy in difficult times!
5. Lead Yourself
Leadership in difficult times is not easy. It can take a toll on a leader emotionally, financially, and physically. If you are not at your best, you cannot lead well. As a leader, its always important to take care of yourself first. Just like on a plane you are told to put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others, you need to take care of yourself to take care of others. Make sure you exercise, get rest, and eat healthy to maintain your energy levels and keep your cognitive ability strong.
Have an outlet you can use to direct some of your emotions and fears to. Its important to have a community of other leaders you use as a release of your struggles and gain counsel through these times. Leadership is difficult and lonely; you need help to lead well.
Lastly, to lead yourself you need to seek higher counsel. I know no greater way to seek discernment than reading the Bible and thoughtful prayer time with God.
In summary, leading in difficult times is hard. That is why we need great leaders and great leaders need to surround themselves with other leaders.
I would love to hear from you how you lead in difficult times because together we are all stronger! If you found this information helpful, please share it with a friend.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.