Leadership is as much a responsibility as it is a privilege, more so when tough times are plaguing your business. We have more founders and business leaders today than ever before. And this has developed a new breed of leaders who are young, determined to make it big, and have a go-getter attitude.

If things seem to go according to plan, leading a growing business seems much easier. The momentum of the businesses pushes you through everything. But it’s when the challenges keep mounting, and difficult times are ahead, is when the true mettle of leadership is tested.

In trying times, it falls on your shoulders as the leader to look out for your teams and business. People will look up to you for guidance and help in how to navigate difficult circumstances. You will have to create an environment of openness and constant support for your people.

More than any training or education, it is times of crisis that forge a better leader and teach valuable leadership skills. Any successful business leader, or in fact any leader, will tell you that.

As a leader, they set the tone

Your team will look to you on how to act, and then use your actions as a model on how they tackle the situation. The energy you bring to the table is the same one they will adopt. The question on how to lead a team through tough times is most often about how you handle and respond to the situation.

Point to the problem, and explain to your team how they should look at it as a growth opportunity, instead of as a challenge.

It’s important to be empathetic, but also be honest with your team and employees about the situation at hand. Be open about what it means realistically for the company, and how you intend to tackle it. Express a positive attitude towards the business and its future, and you will see that your team too will look at it the same way.

The only way to lead is to lead by example. Support your team and inspire them to do great work.

They are the pillar during tough times

When a business is dealing with tough times, the leader needs to be the strong pillar that holds everything together. Without centralized leadership, your teams will not be able to effectively tackle difficult situations and will lose productivity.

It is easy for teams to lose morale when things get difficult. Doesn’t matter if it’s a pandemic, a slump, or harsh competition – it is always strong leadership that pulls businesses out of such crisis situations.

Encourage teams and align them with the immediate goals. Give them the opportunity to come to you for anything they need, and be accessible to them. Having a leader who is easy to approach and work with makes your teams much more efficient. They can then work with clear directives instead of deliberating on which path to take.

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Communicate more, and communicate often

It is important to be visible more as a leader when getting through hard times. And an aspect of visibility is effective and clear communication. It is always important to let your employees know the reality of the situation, and what the plan is to overcome the difficult times as a team. This helps them get a bearing and gives them objectives to act upon.

Regular communication also helps in creating a sense of transparency and normalcy when going through hard times. When management talks behind closed doors, it is always a cause of anxiety for employees. This is because it creates a feeling of uncertainty, and that would be the last thing you would want during such times,

Open and honest communication helps in putting to rest any fears your teams might have. It will make them feel safe and secure in their work and gives them the motivation to work harder.

You can talk about progress and situation updates using different mediums:

  • All hands meetings at regular intervals
  • Frequent updates via email
  • Constant communication via Slack, Teams, or other such IM tools
  • Acknowledging the wins in dealing with the difficult situation

Outsource where possible to focus on the core problem(s)

When you are a growing business, nothing is easy. Add a crisis situation on top of that, and things get even more complicated. When dealing with difficult times, it is important for the whole team to come together and work on the issues together.

But often, it is not possible to focus on the critical work when there are other things that consume your (and your team’s) time. In such a situation, it makes sense to offload some of the work to, say remote employees, who can help you keep things going while you battle the big issues.

It might seem counter-intuitive, but it is actually more helpful. Your core team can work on coming out of the hardship, without any distractions. At the same time, the wheels still keep turning and nothing falls through the crack.

Reorganize priorities and realign goals

The priorities of the business, and by extension its teams, change according to the growth and scale of the company. A time of crisis shifts the focus from growth to survival and putting out fires. It is important to give guidance on the immediate priorities and how to tackle them. It is not realistic to be able to manage everything at once, like before.

Layout the list of things and which need active attention and which can be handled sometime later. This helps your team approach their tasks with a clearer objective. It will also help you get closer to resolving the situation systemically, one step at a time.

This is also the time to step up as a leader and realign your teams to the long-term goals of the company. Talk your teams through how you as a company are going to get back on track, what do the goals look like, and the path to achieving them.

Final note

Much of the credit for how a business shapes up goes to the person or people leading at the top. It’s the leadership that has the ability to get the entire team to work towards a common goal, as individual teams tend to normally focus on their own function.

When faced with tough times, it also the same leadership that has the ability to make or break the business. It is important for leaders to take stock of the situation and guide their teams in the right direction during difficult times.

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