6 Ways to Lead Your Team Through Turbulent Times

It would be a right ‘box of fluffy ducks’ if leading was all plain sailing.

But if you’ve been a leader for longer than a nanosecond, 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 strong leadership. When there’s adversity, people will look to you to see how to behave. Your whisper will come out as a shout.

[Tweet “When there’s adversity, people will look to you. Your whisper will come out as a shout.”]

How you handle hard times will set the tone for how your team handle those same hard times. 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 consider the way you are leading – and then they will quickly follow suit.

Perhaps more than when you lead in good times, turbulent situations are where the rubber hits the road.

So if you’re feeling like you’re in a pickle, read on immediately. And, if you’re riding the wave of success and singin’ “can’t touch this”, read on anyway and file this puppy away for when you really need it.

Here are 6 ways to lead your team through turbulent times:

1. Build resilience in yourself and 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, whereas introverted team members may prefer the opportunity to connect in more introspective ways.

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 is natural for people to feel powerless and victimised in tough times, so it is important for you to help your people shift from the mindset of the passive victim. Empathise, listen (and listen some more). But don’t encourage people to remain in victim mode for long.

Ask, “What is within in our power in this situation?” “Yes its tough. And, what is within our here and now?”  “What are our options, given X, Y and Z?” There is always something you can do, even if its 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 appropriate ways to deal with it.

3. Be versatile in your communication style. A skilled leader changes their communication to suit the varying styles of those they lead. This becomes even more important in tough times. Mary may prefer to talk about her feelings and the effect on the team, whereas Tom might prefer to cut to the chase, and focus on outcomes or processes for responding to the situation. Tune in and adapt your style accordingly.

[Tweet “A skilled leader changes their communication to suit the varying styles of those they lead.”]

4. Communicate often, candidly and clearly. It is almost impossible to over-communicate in tough times (remembering that it’s a two way street – listening and communicating key messages.) 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.

5. Look after yourself. You are as useless as a chocolate teapot if you’re a burnt out puddle of sludge. Exercising, eating healthily and doing things that fill up your tank are imperative in times like this – even (and especially) when you think you “don’t have time.”

6. 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 tough times.

What tips do you have for leading during tough times? I’d love to hear your thoughts – please leave your comments below.

1 Comment

  1. Scott Nicol on October 10, 2016 at 2:07 am

    For resilience have I ever raved about https://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/home/ways-to-wellbeing/ the five ways to wellbeing?

Leave a Comment

Recent Posts from The Leader's Digest

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.

Welcome to

The Leader's Digest

Subscribe to The Leader’s Digest

Receive trending leadership topics and tips, straight to your inbox.

Please enter your name.
Please enter a valid email address.
Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.

Internationally Recognised


The Leader's Digest App