How to Lead Through Adversity
Things rarely go according to plan. Quotas aren’t met. Prospects fall through the cracks. People don’t live up to their end of the bargain. False accusations are made. Negative feedback is given.
Can you relate to one, or more of those? I know I can.
Life can seem to sometimes steer us into adverse times – particularly in the business world.
Personally, I’ve spent 11 of the 15 years of my adult life working for myself. With many great highs and with many lows. The business world can be brutal.
The entrepreneurial journey can be a lonely one…particularly when trying to navigate adversity. We often feel like we can’t talk with our team because they’ll leave and make the situation worse.
As the leader, how can you guide and encourage a team when you are facing extremely difficult times? How can you motivate your team when all hope seems lost? How can you lead through adversity?
There are six steps I’ve discovered that will help you lead your team through the darkest days.
Step 1 – Be Realistic
No need to pretend. No need to act like everything is perfectly fine. Chances are good that your team can sense that things are not right. So, instead of trying to cover up and hide the struggle, be upfront with them.
Let them know exactly what the situation looks like. Explain to them why and how you ended up in the situation and what are the possible outcomes. Don’t try to hide or ignore the reality of the situation. Face it head on, and let your team help.
Step 2 – Be Optimistic (Look for the Silver Lining)
Despite how tough things may be, the future will likely be much better. When we go through tough times, our vision often gets cloudy and we’re unable to see how bright the future may be.
It’s during these tough times that you, as a leader, need to look for the silver lining and share it with your team.
On September 5th 2001, James McDermott was sentenced and imprisoned on federal charges of insider trading. As the CEO of a large investment bank with offices around the world, this wasn’t good news.
However, six days later, during the horrific events of September 11th, James McDermott’s former office in the South Tower was hit by one of the airplanes. Sixty-seven of his 175 co-workers were killed in the terrorist attack.
I share that story, not to celebrate James’ wrongdoings, and certainly not to marginalize the horrific events of September 11th, but to remind you that, regardless of how bad things may seem, they could be worse.
Step 3 – Focus on the Solution(s)
When everything seems to be stacked against us, our default nature is to continually focus on the problem. We ask questions such as:
Why is this happening to me?
Why I’m I so unlucky?
Why do they have it so easy?
Just for once can’t I catch a break?
When we ask such questions, we completely strip ourselves (and our teams) of the power we have to find a solution. Often, asking questions expands our problem; as opposed to expanding the possible solutions available.
Instead, we need to spend our time focusing on finding the solutions to the problems. I’m not saying you can’t think about the problem. What I’m suggesting is that you spend most of your time focusing on solutions to your problems.
Here are a few questions to help shift your focus from the problem to solutions to the problem:
What caused this problem to occur in the first place? And how can I/we prevent it from happening again?
What are 10 ways we can get out of this problem?
What are 10 ways we can prevent this problem from occurring again?
What one specific step can we take today to get out of this situation?
Can you feel the difference between these two sets of questions? One is more depressing, while the other empowers.
Lead your team through these second set of questions. Help them stay focused on the solutions instead of on the problem(s).
Step 4 – Set Clear Expectations
Fortunately, tough times are seasonal. Sure, some of the tough seasons seem to far outlast the good seasons but regardless – they’re seasonal.
What I’ve discovered is that most businesses continue operating the exact same way in both good times and bad. This is a mistake.
As an entrepreneur, you need to have a different game plan to use when things get tough. Think of the tough times like going into battle. Going into battle requires a different plan of action than is required during times of peace.
During tough times, you need to ensure that your team knows and understands that a different set of rules and expectations apply. It’s your job as the leader, regardless of how you feel, to clearly communicate these “tough times” expectations to them.
The first time you implement this new set of expectations, your team may give a little push-back, but that’s to be expected. After all, we’re all creatures of habit, and we prefer to not be moved outside of our comfort zone.
I’ve found using a football analogy helps. I explain that this current situation is like our red zone offense. It requires everyone to give extra effort. It requires everyone to push harder than they think is possible. It requires everyone to do more, and give more.
Step 5 – Ask for Buy-In
Now that you’ve taken the time to establish and explain the new expectations, it’s time to ask for buy-in. This is usually best done through one-on-one conversations.
As the leader, you want each team member to verify that they understand the new expectations and they are committed to them. A simple way of accomplishing this is by asking each team member what ideas they have and how they can help implement those ideas.
Depending on the severity of the times you are leading through, you may even consider creating a document listing the new expectations and have each team member sign it – signifying they understand and are committed to the new expectations.
Asking for buy-in is really about ensuring that each team member fully understands the seriousness of the situation, and their role to help get out of the tough times.
Step 6 – Business vs. Life Decisions
Let me start by asking you a question. When you’re at work, do your kids magically stop growing? When you stay late at the office for the third straight night in a week, does that magically strengthen your relationship with your spouse?
Of course not!
You only have one life. Your life isn’t magically put on hold while you’re at the office, and then automatically resume once you get back home. And the same is true for your team members.
As a side note: The term work-life balance wasn’t even used in the United States until 1986.
Keep this in mind as you make decisions and lead during tough times. Your “business” decisions will have a direct affect on the personal lives of your team members, customers, and even vendors.
Once you grasp this fully, it will make leading during tough times easier. It serves as a constant reminder that virtually no employee in the world shows up to work each day thinking, Now how can I completely screw up today?
They want to show up and do a good job. They want to know that they’re making a difference…that they are helping make things better.
Have you heard the saying, ‘The only things that are certain are death and taxes’? Well let me add another certainty to that saying: The only things that are certain are death, taxes, and tough times in business.
And you know what? That’s perfectly okay! It’s part of life.
You shouldn’t ask, What will we do if things don’t go according to plan? Instead, you should ask, What will we do when things don’t go according to plan?
Using the six steps outlined above, not only will you be a better leader during the tough times, you’ll come out on the other side in a better position than you were in before the tough times arrived.
Have you been through a tough season in your business? What did you do to get through it?
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