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“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”—Charles Darwin
Hard moments are inevitable in any business. Different economic environments bring different challenge
s that companies and businesses have to grapple with. When external factors contribute to an organization’s decline, what often happens is that the external reasons become the internal reality for many businesses.
Business strategies change, processes change, markets change, technology changes, consumer preferences change but the fundamental elements of leadership don’t change. It is easy to lead in good times, but the real leadership act is tested in the hardship of an economy and uncertain circumstances.
Here I present to you “Ten leadership mantras” to lead in challenging times.
1. Breakthrough your frustrations.
Frustrations can kill your dreams and lack of results can disappoint teams, people, management and almost everyone involved in creating results. When times get tough, even the most loyal team members can be tempted to start shooting and, unfortunately, they sometimes shoot at each other! Rather than focusing on the enemy on the outside, they begin to question each other and find many faults with one another that they normally would not have seen. As a result, people get frustrated and become fearful, overly cautious and temperamental.
When times are tough, it is the leader’s responsibility to keep the flock together, reinforce them with purpose and motivate the team to keep up the spirit of enterprise and good governance.
The secret to success is in breaking through frustrations rather than being succumbed by it. Remember that a moment of frustration is more productive and useful to business than the warmth of comfort. Comfort is the enemy of achievement. Know that challenging times can lead to exciting directions. What really matters is how you perceive and understand challenging times.
A motivated leader sees the “flip side” of a situation and takes advantage of any adversity they encounter. Having a great attitude is the key to breakthrough frustrations. When frustration is swept across the team and within the organization, keeping them motivated and aligned to the vision becomes part of the solution. You need to constantly remind your people about the ultimate outcome they are after. If everyone’s eyes are on the “prize.” they will not be distracted. If your goals are big enough, smaller frustrations and short-term setbacks can’t derail you from the plan. When goals are small, people are not excited in a team and they tend to give up easily.
2. Learn to manage work pressure.
When times are tough, work pressure increases. We work harder to achieve the quota, and often we may be disappointed by lesser outcomes compared to the massive efforts we put in. Then, there are more demands from customers, colleagues, shareholders and management, and these can lead to internal chaos and tensed atmosphere. As a result, we tend to treat ourselves and others harshly.
During challenging times, leaders must keep an emotional balance not to let things go out of the handle. Being nice to people is the key. Putting up a positive atmosphere can save the day. When you focus on solutions, solutions are achieved. When you focus on problems, problems are multiplied. A leader’s responsibility is to keep his people focused on goals and solutions rather than being overwhelmed by problems and challenges. When you stay positive, people can work collectively and take on the challenges with more ease and comfort. Being calm under pressure enables them to make better decisions—for themselves and for their followers. Panic only leads to disaster, while calm leads to victory.
3. Have a sense of destiny.
A strong belief and a sense of destiny means “we will succeed no matter what the obstacles are.” This mindset can help leaders navigate through the toughest times and in dealing hope to their followers.
A leader must instill faith in his people. In tough times, people naturally feel low and pessimistic. They are perplexed at how everything is all going to work out. A leader must be aware of the emotional environment within the organization and must collectively change the vibrations of the work atmosphere. Leaders must stay focused on optimistic outcomes and act like the motivator of the group. One of the key emotions that a leader must handle is the fear of uncertainty. They must reinforce certainty, where there is uncertainty by instilling faith in people that “no matter what, we will eventually overcome all of these obstacles and succeed.”
4. Polish your skills
Anthony Robbins once said: “In good times, people will party, and in bad times, they will ponder.” Tough times are the best times to pause and reflect on what is working and what is not working. It is also the best time to polish skills and take a better perspective on solving current problems. In business we can never wish for lesser problems. Problems and challenges will always surface, but we can acquire new skills to overcome our problems. It is our skills and confidence that can belittle any problem.
Leaders prepare their people to equip themselves to handle challenges. Preparation is the key here. As the saying goes, “If you have six hours to chop down a tree, then spend five hours in sharpening your axe.” Preparation becomes an inevitable part. Tough times are an ideal time for learning and development because people are more open to new ideas and fresh perspectives, because their current plans are not really working and they are willing to try something new. In bad times, people tend to be flexible and open up their mind to new suggestions and ideas.
Invest time in planning and strategizing. Take action on ideas when the idea is hot and ready.
A strategic plan should be conceived of multiple options and ways to achieve the goals. The more options you have in your arsenal, the more free you are and equipped to experiment and eventually succeed.
5. Handle the truth
There is no use pretending that the problems do not exist. A leader must face reality. They must know when the music stops. They must have an acute awareness of what’s going on in their industry and relative fields in their business. Scenario forecasting can help you arm yourself with counter measures when things do not go as they are expected.
Look out for the changes that are taking place. Instead of being a follower who is compelled to adapt to change, become the pioneer in leading change.
Transparency within the members of the organization foster trust and it will uphold the integrity of leaders. Do not give air for rumors to spread; instead address the specific issues and make strategic decisions to create and execute a progressive plan to face the market reality.
Leaders must develop the foresight to understand what is coming based on the current market scenario. In this case, you can hope for the best, but you must be prepared for the worst.
6. Foster teamwork and attack problems together.
A team is a perfect example for a support system. Nothing beats the force of unity. When people are united, they can support each other and reinforce their beliefs to overcome any adverse situations and misconceptions. When leaders have teams they can fall back on in tough moments, perseverance becomes a shared responsibility. Teams will encourage each other and lighten up the moods of people who feel low.
Leaders must focus on building strong teams united by organizational values and principles. The mood of the team must be to think about possibilities rather than contemplating obstacles and limitations.
When diversity of opinions (cognitive diversity) can actually be harnessed, a team can come up with unconventional ideas and “outside-the-box” thinking. When everybody thinks alike, nobody is really thinking. Tough times pave way to conceptual challenges where the team experiences a lack of effective ideas and execution plans. Instead of engaging in a departmental “blame game,” it is a leader’s responsibility to remind his team to attack the problem together and not to attack each other.
7. Observe emerging opportunities
Tough times may show declines of existing business and business models. On one side, tough times can wipe out businesses but on the other hand, it gives birth to new ideas, processes and businesses.
A leader must be a keen observer of emerging opportunities in the market. Creativity and innovation is the key here. A leader must put aside conventional thinking and encourage new assumptions. Old assumptions and preconceived notions can only give the current results. If the results have to be changed, a new thinking paradigm must be applied and solutions must be sought differently.
New answers can be found only through different questioning. Allow free thinking, and challenge existing assumptions. Build an organization that will question everyone to think differently.
Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, said in an interview with Time magazine that “we run the company by questions, not by answers.” P&G changed the game by asking smart questions that defined the psychographics of their customers. Engage in smart questioning processes, identify new market segments, redesign your offers, innovate new products and services, apply process innovation to bring down the cost and breakthrough marketing challenges with better value propositions, offers and services.
8. Protect your core business and your core customers
In tough times, all competitors want to woo your customers to increase their bottom line. Customer loyalty is mostly tested in tough times. Here you must be very vigilant to keep your important customers and protect the core of your business.
Business people get into an experimental mode and try to diversify when their core businesses are not growing. Some people will get totally impatient and they move away with something else. In tough times, your core business must adapt to the changing times. You must also focus on diversifying and enlarging the pool when an opportunity emerges. Apple changed the game when Steve Jobs returned, and he observed that the price of microprocessors fell drastically over time. So he put it to better use to it by innovating the iPod. Thus, Apple reinvented itself as an entertainment company rather than a computer company.
9. Know when to lead from front or from behind.
Nelson Mandela said: “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”
A leader must make gutsy decisions in order to lead from the front; ask smarter questions and make faster decisions. Agility plays a pivotal role here. Tough times are the times of the quick or the dead. Leaders must cut through confusion to get clarity on their agendas. Action plans must be executed on time. A company that is not swift enough to respond to situations quicker will soon be extinct. It is easy to pay a blind eye to situations or problems while they are still small. Every situation requires the management or leadership to respond rather swiftly than wait for an utmost catastrophe. Speed and alacrity are a great necessity in ensuring that the company does not have to wait to deal with giants when they can thwart the problem at its inception. The key is to kill a demon when it is a baby; do not wait until it becomes a monster.
10. Take educated risks
Tough times present risks, and risk-taking is a prime quality and functional responsibility of every leader. If one can’t take risks, then the company will not only stagnate but recede in the face of hardships. Taking risks is going against the grain sometimes. It is jumping in while others are opting out. It is an act of bravery and predicament. But taking blind risks is like playing Russian roulette. Take educated risks. Sink deep into the data of information. Make informed decisions while studying both sides of the data—the adverse effect as well as the brighter outcomes. Take counter measures for all the down sides. If something can go wrong at any level, be armed with counter measures. Gather as much information as you can, but information must not scare you and lead you to an analysis paralysis; instead information must help you remove the fear of moving forward.
When there is certainty in an outcome, there is no risk involved. A leader must take calculated risks when things are uncertain.