In a leadership role, you’re expected to, well… lead. But there is way more to being a leader, and there are complex layers of understanding, empathy, and respect that separate the good from the great. And what really distinguishes a great leader from a poor one are challenges.
Anyone can be a monumental leader when times are good. When everyone’s happy, clients and teams included, and there aren’t any issues at hand, you can sometimes see the glittery glow of a unicorn nearby.
In the real business world, unicorn happiness doesn’t exist. If your business is growing, you’ll likely experience growing pains. If a competitor outpaces you, you’ll feel the pressure to get ahead. Employees will turnover. Products will fail. Service providers will not deliver on their promises. Corporate takeovers happen. Miscommunication happens. Clients leave. Lawsuits have to be handled. As a pivotal leader, it’s your job to navigate the company vessel through everything without losing your best employees in the process.
How well someone can lead a team through those tough projects, unforeseen company changes, or impossible problem-solving, is the best gauge of a person’s leadership capability. The best of the best will not only overcome the company challenges, but they’ll also manage to inspire their teams to join in problem-solving.
If you’re looking for suggestions on how to adjust your leadership style in a way that inspires your teams through everything, the good times and the challenging, these are the tips that can help.
Some Challenges Require Inspiration for Self-Resolution
It’s important to recognize that some problems are yours to solve. Employee-level hiccups or individual team member challenges present opportunities for growth and learning. A good leader will see those opportunities and coach employees through self-resolution. Solving the problems for them will only set the precedent that only a leader or manager can handle such an issue. Coaching team members through finding their own solutions will ensure they know how to handle other similar challenges independently in the future. Teach a man to fish, right?
Other Challenges Require Inspiration by Demonstration
As a leader in your organization, you likely possess a strong skill set for tackling and solving problems. But your employees might need help or training with how to handle challenges. In some instances, when the issue at hand is complex or carries with it a load of anxiety at the employee level, a good leader will come in and demonstrate how to come to a resolution. Step in and show them it’s ok to make decisions and mistakes. Allow them to be a part of the call with the disgruntled client, so they can hear how you handle objections and de-escalate the situation. Inspire them by demonstrating your skills and coaching them on how to develop their own.
How to Show Your Resilience
There are some company challenges that arise out of anyone’s control. Case in point, the pandemic. Everyone had to adjust and find new ways to maintain operations in a new, restricted environment. A great leader will be resilient in even the toughest of uncontrollable situations, paving the way forward for everyone to follow. Show your teams how you hold your head high and maintain focus on core objectives. Demonstrate how you’re able to find solutions in even the toughest of scenarios. Maybe during the pandemic, you came up with a remote working plan, an all-hands-on-deck approach to sharing ideas for how to get work done, or a unique way to keep your company doors open when others stalled. It’s that level of resilience that will inspire teams to do the same and value their positions with an organization.
Here are a couple of actionable ways you can ensure you demonstrate your leadership ability to be resilient:
Self-Care: You can’t show others how to have a positive mindset and optimistic perspective if you yourself cannot maintain either. Take the time you need to focus on your own coping skills and mental toughness. Self-care will ensure that you present the best version of yourself to your teams in an authentic and inspirational way.
Don’t Lose Touch: The best method for tackling challenges head-on is by arming yourself ongoing with the best tools, most valuable resources, and latest information. Don’t get insulated from the ground-level realities your teams are facing. And don’t wall yourself up in a silo, unable to see the lay of the land. Stay in the loop constantly and up to date with key details and strategic information. It’s where your best solutions will come from, and you’ll be ready to leverage them when they do.
Controlling Your Emotions
This is a big one. As a company leader or manager, you probably deal with more frustration and anxiety than anyone else. And the occasional outburst is likely forgivable. You are human, after all. But the greatest leaders take necessary steps to control their emotions. Overreacting or misguided anger will only antagonize a situation. It will also show your teams that it’s ok to lose their cool when the going gets tough. Keep your wits about you during the heftiest of challenges. Remain calm when others would get hyper. You can essentially get the same point across without yelling or typing in all caps. Be mindful of your own limits, too. If you need to step away and have your outburst privately, it’s best to do so. Just don’t let your teams see you falter, and they’ll be inspired by your ability to keep a level head and maintain professionalism.
Leading by Example
Nothing’s worse than a manager who tries to enforce policies and behaviors that he or she doesn’t follow. You know the importance of leading by example. And it’s not always easy to do. The best managers and leaders, however, aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and get into the trenches with their teams, especially during challenging times. The best example right now might just be the President of Ukraine leading on the front lines.
As a business leader, leading by example means showing your teams how to navigate when there is no roadmap. When others get nervous about flying without a safety net, it’s your responsibility to show them what’s possible. Don’t be afraid to demonstrate when to ask for help, too. If they see how you handle problems, they’ll be inspired in managing their own.
Knowing Where Your Teams Are Mentally
It’s essential that you are quick to identify when your teams are feeling the stress. Know where they are emotionally, mentally, and physically if need be. It’s about identifying when they need motivation, when they need extra support, and when they need individual attention. And it’s about empathy. When you’re knee-deep in a work-related crisis, it’s not the time to let people slide. But practicing empathy will allow you, as a leader, to meet your employees where they are and help them get through challenges.
Here are some methods for checking in on your teams:
Asking Questions: Some leaders hesitate to ask too many questions. And, of course, you don’t want to pry into sensitive territories or cross the professionalism line with subordinates. However, asking thought-provoking questions is a great way to open up the dialogue that encourages your teams to share with you what’s bothering them. Questions can also allow you to make sure they have the tools they need to perform their jobs and the support they require to do so well.
Empowering Them: Empower and encourage your teams to speak up, pitch in, and share ideas anytime you’re navigating a rough patch at work. Sometimes, employees will “freeze up” when challenges arise and await further instructions. This leads to paralysis by analysis all too often, as well. So, when the going gets tough, empower your staff to get involved and keep pushing forward, with or without precise instructions.
Providing a Safe Space: During the pandemic, there were company-related stresses and challenges to address. But you also know that each individual member in your ranks also had to cope with personal changes at home. Maybe a spouse lost their job, or there were daycare and remote schooling challenges. The point is to always provide a safe space for your colleagues to be open about other issues they’re facing outside of work. And as their leader, you can coach them and assign responsibilities you’re confident they can handle without over-burdening them.
More Frequent Communication: Schedule some one-on-one meetings and gather with your troops for no reason other than to see how they’re doing. Keep the dialogue open and get more frequent with your communication outreach. When facing company catastrophes, the open-door policy and constant flow of dialogue may be your best lifeline to pulse-check your teams.
Don’t Subscribe to Gossip – EVER
Nothing undermines respect in leadership more than a manager or owner who subscribes to gossip. And when things feel like crisis mode on the job, the first problem that arises is the rumor mill. As a leader, you have to squash the rumors before they invade your company like a cancer. And a strong communication strategy will help with that. But you can’t be in every conversation all the time. So, be mindful of the whispers and be quick to put a stop to them.
In the same vein, you need to also avoid taking on the burdens of others. Listen to your employees intently, but don’t be quick to swoop in and take on their responsibilities. Some people aren’t capable of handling the added pressures. It’s your job to help them cope, not relieve them of those stresses. After all, you have a company to run and departments to lead.
Transparent Even When You Don’t Have Answers
Great leaders are exceptional at demonstrating transparency during challenges. It’s hard to know when to over-share or speculate. But it’s entirely ok to let your teams know that you don’t have the answers. Be open about embracing uncertainty. A false sense of security that results when leaders try to convince their teams things will work out can backfire. It’s best to be open about what you know and what you don’t know as you navigate toward resolution.
What transparency can do for your teams is:
Inspire Innovation: Some of the best solutions and innovations arise from complex or chaotic scenarios. When you’re transparent in sharing what you do know and what you don’t, you inspire your teams to step in to help problem-solve.
Forgive Imperfections: Transparency will allow and forgive imperfections. When you ask your employees to follow you into the unknown, you can also let them know there will be margins of error and acceptable missteps along the way. And when they know they’re allowed to have some small failures, they’ll be more willing to proceed and forge ahead.
Set the Pace, So Long as It’s Balanced
Your teams will only work as hard as you do. And in most cases, they’ll only apply about 50%-75% of the methods you demonstrate for them. So, when going through tough times, you’ll have to be the lead dog and set the pace for the rest of the team. With that in mind, it’s also important to point out that the best leaders also know how to set an aggressive pace with balance. There’s a time for taking a break and a breather with your teams. And there’s also a time for pedal-to-the-metal productivity. Maintain a balance with what you expect and as you set the pace forward.
Be Liberal with Gratitude
With each company and individual milestone, be liberal with gratitude and recognition. When employees demonstrate exemplary attitude, problem-solving skills, or performance, celebrate it. Gratitude is the glue that binds an employee’s loyalty to your organization. Pat them on the back for working hard and trying hard. Remind them you appreciate their efforts and continued commitment to get through whatever challenges lie ahead.
The only real guarantee in business is that challenges and problems will always arise. How well your company gets through those tough times depends on your ability to lead. And hopefully, these leadership tips for those navigating issues can help you improve your leadership efforts.
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