5 tips for leading your team through tough times

In case you hadn’t noticed, there are quite a few governments around the world in a bit of a pickle.  The Trump administration is an obvious one, Britain is continuing to be plagued by Brexit, our mates across the ditch have just elected their sixth Prime Minister in eight years and even our own government has its fair share of turbulent waters to navigate. How a leader of a country responds to troublesome times is the measure of their governance. But this statement applies to anyone in a leadership role.

As a leader, you’ll know all too well the pain of leading through tough times. From a complicated crisis, to the slow, grinding burn of cost-cutting recessions, leading a team through stormy waters requires you to dig deep.

How you handle hard times will set the tone for how your team handles them. If you’re running around like a headless chicken, or acting like a sulky toddler who missed out on their favourite ice cream, people will quickly follow suit.

So if you’re going through a tough time at the moment or you want to be prepared for when you do, keep reading…

Here are five ways to successfully lead your team through tough times:

  1. Build resilience in yourself and connections with those you lead. See here for practical ways to do this. In times of crisis or difficulty, connection is even more important than it usually is. Provide opportunities for people to connect and share their experience in ways that suit their different styles. Those who are expressive and outgoing might want to talk it out in a group, whereas introverted team members may prefer the opportunity to connect in more introspective ways or one on one.

    The key is to strengthen the connection within the team. Don’t slide into silos and individually suffer in silence.

  2. Build a sense of control, even when it appears so much is out of your control. It’s natural for people to feel powerless and victimised in tough times, so it is important for you to help your team shift from the mindset of the passive victim. Empathise, listen (and listen some more). But discourage people from remaining in that victim mode for long, because it just makes you feel worse. How? Ask, “What is within your/our power in this situation?” “What are our options, given X, Y and Z?” There is always something you can do, even if it’s changing your attitude to those factors outside your control. These responses imply the power remains with the individual and that some positive outcomes can emerge from this tough situation. Help people face reality, but at the same time help them find solutions to deal with it.

    Michael Caine, one of Britain’s most epic actors, has talked about “Using the difficulty” to turn any problem into an advantage – you can read all about this in my blog here.

  3. Communicate often, candidly and clearly. It is almost impossible to over-communicate in tough times (remember communication is a two-way street – listening as well as talking). Ironically this is one of the most crucial times for providing an inspirational and compelling vision of a way forward.

    Metaphors can be your friend here. Is what you and your organisation experiencing like climbing a mountain, navigating stormy seas, or like a famous sports team half way through the season and not performing? Look to nature if you’re stuck – it’s full of powerful metaphors. Storytelling and metaphors help people make sense, which in turn lowers anxiety and fear.

  4. Look after yourself. Exercising, getting enough sleep and doing things that make you happy or enable you to take time out of a situation are imperative in times like this – even (and especially) when you think you “don’t have time.” You won’t be able to lead others through this tough time if you can’t first lead yourself.

  5. Finally, put it all in perspective. As the saying goes, “this too, shall pass.” Know that you won’t be in this pickle forever. Winston Churchill once said, “difficulties mastered are opportunities won.” If you look at it with the right mindset, there is usually rich learning and silver linings – even in difficult situations.

What tips do you have for leading during tough times? I’d love to hear what you have to say, so comment below.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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