Business success often is coupled with stories of surviving a difficult stretch to emerge a better company. A checking account down to the last few cents, one-month away from shutting the doors for good, or years of mediocrity before that spectacular breakthrough are common business folklore.
Hearing tales of others moving from the brink of failure to greatness help keep the downtrodden motivated. Inspiration is crucial, but so is a plan. Here are four keys to leading in difficult times:
Keep a cool head.
There's an oft-used phrase referring to leadership: The speed of the leader is the speed of the team. No doubt, a leader's behavior has a trickle-down effect. When your organization is paddling rough waters, what the team needs more than ever is focus. Leaders who show signs of panic or fear will not keep their teams on-point.
The team needs to be calm to focus. It's essential you show confidence and a collected demeanor in front of your team, regardless of the emotions flowing through your veins Direct the focus away from fear to the task of turning around the business.
Be brilliantly transparent with your team.
The leader who is in a public state of denial will not endear himself to his team. The group will begin to whisper and disintegrate. Keep employees in the loop when the company is facing challenges.
If the right people populate your organization, they will rally and help you tackle the challenges. They have ideas that can help, but they'll only come out if you fully explain the situation. The key is to not be reckless in your transparency, but brilliant. Sharing your worries simply to get them off your chest does little good. A leader must steer his team's focus to tackling the problem.
Paint an inspiring vision.
A team needs a unifying vision more than ever when facing adversity. A united team can overcome obstacles but a panicked team will surely crumble. Good leaders will paint a vision for their teams and develop with them a strategy for getting back on top.
As the plan progresses, publicly recognize steps in the right direction, however small the victories may be. Your team will begin to see the light on the other side of the tunnel and pick-up momentum. Never underestimate an inspired team's ability to accomplish great things – when they have a clear vision.
Move from reactive to proactive mode ASAP.
When a business has its back against the wall, reacting swiftly may take precedence over all else. Undoubtedly, your action timeline is cut short. But while a defensive, counter-puncher mode may be necessary for the short-term, the quicker you get your team back to a proactive state, the better long-term decisions will likely be. Play defense for as long as you have to and not a moment longer.
Whether it's a company or a division of a larger institution, chances are at some point, adversity will mar the landscape. Obstacles are a normal part of business and life. Resist the urge to feel sorry for yourself or play the blame or what-if games. You don't have time for that. Your team needs you more now then ever. Get focused and remember that the best teams arise from adversity that much stronger for getting through the experience.