Leadership Articles: TALKING LEADERSHIP


A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
August 2013   |   By Dan Gaynor

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Leading Through Difficulty

Lately it seems I've encountered several organizations faced with leading people through a difficult time - some are facing financial difficulty, others disruptive changes in the executive office. Recent floods in Calgary and High River will place many local business leaders in this position as they strive to reassure worried employees and recover from the damage. These situations all have much the same effect: they throw people off balance and create productivity draining distractions when leaders don't meet these challenges skillfully.

Leading through a difficult period is not business as usual. These are defining periods for leaders and their teams. Having led more than a few teams through difficult periods and back into smooth waters I'd like to share some of what I've learned about the right way to do it:

1. Recognize the enemy and encourage your team.
I have often commented that much of a leader's role is to create focus and release energy. Yet so many unwittingly do just the opposite - and even more so at times like this - and they add fuel to the fire. Through difficult times your enemies are fear and worry and this pair always creates distractions. Attack fear by encouraging your team and building confidence.

2. Appreciate the power of your example:
Look in the mirror and consider the example you are setting. Few leaders appreciate how closely they are watched, and everything you do is watched much more closely in tough times. I recently heard one executive describe the fear he sees in his leader as "palpable." If you look fearful, pessimistic or uncertain you will amplify these feelings across your entire team and make the problem a lot bigger than it needs to be. Your team may even give up just when you need them digging in and working harder. So be careful with what you say and do. Speak and act confidently. If you have doubts and fears don't show your team, they need your strength.

3. Lead with a firm grip:
Through challenging and difficult times teams look to their leaders for the way through the storm. They want you to take charge. As much as people appreciate some autonomy much of the time, right now they want you to know what to do, so tighten controls and take command. Develop a battle plan and make assignments. This will build confidence and give people something constructive to focus on. It's so much easier for people to get through a tough time when they don't feel powerless so give everyone a piece of the plan to work on.

4. Communicate far more often:
When people are worried their need to be "in the know" goes up substantially. Fear grows in information vacuums, so communication becomes far more important. If you normally hold a staff meeting once every three months, start holding one every month or even a brief one each week. Talk about the situation realistically and confidently. Talk about the steps you are taking and help everyone see that their part of the plan is important. Every time you get them together you have another opportunity to build confidence, encourage your team and keep them focused, and you'll be sending an important signal that you care about them.

Difficult and challenging times are defining periods for leaders that can accelerate team growth or decline. Teams rarely exit them the same. Overcome them together and your team is forever strengthened; fail and you break confidence creating a big setback.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the example you and other leaders around you are setting?
  2. Do you have a clear plan of action and have you shared it with your team?
  3. How often are you holding staff meetings and what is the best time and location to hold them going forward?

To help your team develop a full set of high performance leadership skills contact us for a workshop.

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A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
August 2013   |   By Dan Gaynor


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