10 Steps to Leading Effectively in Difficult Times
March 1, 2023
Critical Insight Group


Strong leaders really stand out in tough times. Candidly, it’s much easier to lead when things are going well. But it’s far more important to lead in uncertain and difficult times.

So what do strong leaders do to help people navigate through the challenges of tough times? Well, here’s a list of 10 things that separate strong leaders from ‘fair weather’ leaders.


1. Get Your Mindset & Attitude Right, First

The first thing you’ll need to do is to get yourself right both emotionally and logically. In difficult times your people are looking to you to: assess the situation, set the tone, and model the expected behavior. Accept that responsibility and take the necessary action quickly. Project calming/ stabilizing confidence in a honest and compassionate manner.


2. See the Current Reality Honestly and Realistically

Rationally and logically assess your situation and the situation of your people (employees, clients, etc.). It doesn’t do anyone any good for you to either deny reality when things are going to be difficult; nor is it effective to be unrealistically positive.

Honestly assess the situation, decide what you’re going to do (any changes that will be made), and communicate that to your team.


3. Communicate/Connect with Your People Openly & Honestly

In uncertain situations people thirst for information. Their anxiety builds the longer it is that they don’t hear from you. When starved of real information, they naturally make up their own and usually go to the worst case possibilities.

Don’t let that happen for your people. Communicate with them as soon and as often as you can. Tell them what you see, how you believe it will impact them, and the plan that you have to get through it.


4. Be Proactive-Not Reactive/Defensive

Don’t wait. Don’t hesitate. As mentioned above, the clock is ticking for you and your people. The longer you take to assess, create the plan, and talk with your people, the worse the situation is going to get for both you and them. Don’t wait to get all the possible information about the (constantly changing) situation before you decide on the plan going forward. There will ALWAYS be more information you could get.

It’s okay to set and communicate a plan letting your people know it’s based upon the information you have right now, and that it might change in the future as more information comes available. That’s really what they would expect. But they want to hear that you’ve made a decision. They need to know what to do.


5. Tell People What to Expect, What to Do and How to Act

Don’t try to be a Coronavirus expert. (This article was written in March 2020 during the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.) Your people aren’t looking for that. Allow the true experts tell your people how to behave regarding their health.

What they do want you to do is tell them what to expect, what they should do differently, and how they should go about their work. Tell them what’s changing and how it is/will impact them.

Equip them with information and a plan of action. This will give them confidence in you and in the situation.


6. Navigate… Lay Out a Plan; Set the Expectation that You’ll Need to Adjust Along the Way

Navigation is more than just pointing the direction. Navigation includes describing the situation, pointing out the difficulties or most pressing concerns, equipping your people to address them, and letting them know if and where ‘rules’ or normal standards of performance have changed.

And just as sailors or cross-country trekkers plans (and course) changes with unpredictable changes in the weather or conditions, assure your team that you’ll communicate changes to the plan of action as you see relevant changes in the situation at hand.

Letting them know they should expect changes in the future, prepares them for those changes and it becomes much easier to make those adjustments.

This also give them confidence when they get these updates, as they are usually thinking, “this is just what they said was going to happen.”


7. Stay Close to Customers

Your customers are just as concerned as you and your team are. So use the same approach with your clients as you use with your team. Let them know that you’ve honestly assessed the situation and devised a plan to continue to support them in a manner that’s most reasonable based upon the current situation.

Continue to communicate with them, if things have changed or not. Ask about their concerns and be flexible in trying to relieve any concerns they may have that are within your control.


8. Stay Close to – be Visible & Available for – Your People

Stay even closer with your team than you are with your clients. Actually, asking your people to be the ones that stay in contact with your clients will actually help them feel more confident in the situation as well. (And it clearly gives them something to do, which is important because it give them something to focus their attention on.)

It is very important to stay visible and available for your people as well. Don’t pop out of your office (or floor of the building), communicate to your people, then go back and hide in your office. Stay in contact with your people. Ask them questions. Allow them to ask all the questions, or voice their concerns, that they want. (As long as it stays positive and helpful in the situation.)


9. Have Faith/Confidence that You’ll Get Through it Together

This one is certainly part of #1 as well. You truly do need to develop the confidence and faith that your team will get through the situation at hand. Getting through past challenges has help you all build the resilience and grit to get through this one as well.

Don’t just have that faith, communicate that faith. Both in your words and more importantly in your actions.


10. When the Timing is Right…Identify Lessons that can be Learned

Finally, when the time is right, assess the situation, the actions that were taken, and the results that were achieved to evaluate what can be learned from the situation and how it was handled.

This step brings the ‘closure’ to the situation that most people seek. It obviously also gives you ideas to implement for the future. Most importantly it instills confidence in your team that they DID work through a very challenging time and come through it just fine.


Hopefully these 10 steps will help you lead your team through the challenging and uncertain times ahead.

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