Leading your team during times of adversity

Getting work done is easy when everything is going well – but when deadlines are approaching, calls are coming in left and right, and stress levels are going through the roof, getting everyone to perform at their best is a monumental challenge

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on About Leaders

Even seemingly well-run organisations are prone to tough periods; what separates good organisations from great ones is how their leaders respond to adversity. Finding the right solution to organisational challenges, and rallying the team to overcome obstacles, are the traits of an outstanding leader.

The role of a leader in challenging times

In times of adversity the first person employees turn towards is their leader; they need confidence and guidance from their leaders in order to find solutions for demanding challenges.

As you may have guessed, this responsibility comes with an immense amount of pressure. Leaders are the people most impacted by adversity, which can take a heavy toll mentally. 

Good leaders must manage these feelings well, and present a strong, confident posture, to ensure they can continue inspiring team members to perform their best. One good example to learn from is Jeff Weiner’s open letter to his employees after LinkedIn was acquired by Microsoft in 2016.

Acquisitions are great for business growth but they can cause restlessness among employees. Would they be replaced by technology? Would their services still be needed three years down the line?

To make matters worse, LinkedIn had suffered an unexpected drop in share price earlier that year, further fueling the air of uncertainty in the offices of the world’s biggest social network for professionals.

Many leaders would have tried to paint the acquisition as a good thing for the future of the business but Weiner decided to tackle the problem head-on in an open letter that addressed the deepest worries of LinkedIn’s employees. Weiner did not shy away from the problems they were facing in the industry, including the company’s stock price concerns. The LinkedIn CEO acknowledged the possibility of layoffs as a result of the acquisition, and he explicitly mentioned how the company would help affected employees land jobs similar to their roles at LinkedIn.

The takeaway is this: Weiner addressed the concerns his employees were worried about instead of trying to treat them as a non-issue. 

Be a good leader in times of adversity

Taking a page out of Weiner’s book is a good idea if you want to excel in leading your team members through tough times. Here’s how to do it.

Practice open and honest communication

Clear, transparent, and honest communication may seem like a cliché piece of advice but there’s a reason why it’s always brought up in leadership principles. It simply works.

It is your job, as a leader, to establish an environment that embraces open communication for employees to discuss their concerns, even if this involves matters beyond work. Every employee should have their fair share of voicing their opinions.

To keep discussions in check, look for ways to provide structure during team meetings. This can be achieved with the standard round-robin meeting or by breaking down teams or groups into units to encourage active participation.

Take care of every team member 

When times are tough it’s important to check in on your team members to make sure they’re doing okay. For example, pulling all-nighters is incredibly challenging; be aware of any signs of fatigue and burnout. If an employee is tired, let them have breaks. A team member who is not physically or mentally ready is not going to improve performance in any way.

Morale and energy levels will also be lower in times of adversity. You can offset this problem by celebrating small wins and giving credit to team members who pull their weight. Recognising employee efforts goes a long way in boosting performance, with at least 69% of employees saying they work better when they feel appreciated at work.

Take full responsibility for slip-ups

The worst mistake you can do as a leader is to put blame on others for setbacks. Yes, the error might not have been your fault but constantly pointing fingers at others doesn’t help.

A strong leader takes responsibility for any slip-ups, and protects employees by resolving the issue out of public view. Bear in mind that not all mistakes can be prevented so don’t be too harsh on yourself, or others if something does not go as planned.

It’s important to focus on matters you can control as a leader. This includes how you handle things after a setback. Have damage control and error prevention plans in place; in most cases, ensuring business continuity is the best form of damage control

Teams should also be focused on tasks that help organisations overcome their current issues while making sure to eliminate any inefficient work practices along the way. By being responsible, and working on relevant tasks that you can control, your team will recover a lot more quickly from mistakes and power through organisational barriers with ease.

Be optimistic but realistic

Don’t let your problems cloud the promise of tomorrow. Bad situations can turn out better than expected in the future, which is why it’s important to be optimistic. By remaining as calm as possible in the midst of turmoil, you give confidence to employees to focus on tasks that matter instead of wasting time worrying.

Optimism, however, must be balanced with a healthy dose of pragmatism. Be realistic in telling team members what is needed from them to get out of a sticky situation; hiding, or ignoring, the reality of the situation is only going to cause more problems.

Implementing realistic, achievable goals is a great way to help employees thrive in times of adversity; break tasks into smaller components to make major challenges much easier to overcome.

Don’t be afraid of facing adversity

Dealing with tough situations is something every leader faces at least once in their career. Running away from your problems will never turn out well. Instead, treat adversity as a way to build your skills as a leader and empower your team members to overcome obstacles with confidence.

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