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Leadership in difficult times

The five virtues of great leaders during challenging times

Tough times are defining moments in a leader’s career.  Moments that result in greatness or mediocrity. Great leaders emerge whether difficulty stems from economic conditions, social upheaval, medical emergencies or unforeseen changes in direction that challenges them and their teams to the limit.

During these times leaders need to conceive a new vision, create belief and transform their people fears and uncertainty into excitement.  The following leadership values and actions are examples of how the best leaders take on these difficult times.

Responsibility

Leaders step up and take responsibility for the condition of their organization, even when external factors impact it.  Employees want to know that their leaders are strong — and brave enough to embrace and carry the weight of the challenge. The Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton said, “Difficulties are just things to overcome.” Shackleton took on all challenges faced by his exploration teams personally. Taking full responsibility for the situation may be the most critical leadership attribute in tough times.

Vision

“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” says the psychologist Carl Jung who thought deeply about exploring the inside of ourselves. Leaders must define a vision clearly and have a goal structure suited for all levels of the organization.  If the vision is significantly modified, then the goal for all levels of the organization must be modified to align people’s energy to achieve the vision.

Truth

What are the most important communication strategies and actions for leaders to perform during tough times to emerge as a stronger team? Shackleton again is quoted as saying “Superhuman effort isn’t worth a damn unless it achieves results.” In his view being clear and honest with his teams was important to ensure they achieved their goals.  The lesson is simple: Communication needs to be honest, frequent, congruent and timely.  This enhances trust during a time when distrust can reign, and trust is a necessary leadership attribute in tough times.

Listen

Listen to your people’s pains and frustrations.  It’s particularly important to address their fears.  When people are afraid, they put their energy into their fears and spread them, which leads to under performance. Stephen Covey author of ‘7 Habits of Highly effective people’ makes this point, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” When times are difficult information about every aspect of the team must be collected.  Listening, to knowledgeable people from all levels, provides leaders with information to make changes.

Short versus long-term

The future king of England Prince Charles was quoted as saying, “Perhaps it has been too uncomfortable for those with vested interests to acknowledge, but we have spent the best part of the past century enthusiastically testing the world to utter destruction; not looking closely enough at the long-term impact our actions will have.” When times are tough leaders should be looking to maintain a short-term focus, which has to be aligned with as well as support the long-term goals of the teams.

In summary, start with your own behaviour. To live through troubled times and emerge stronger, you must create belief in the new vision, align actions, bring people together and turn fear into excitement.

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