Leading In Times of Challenge

Leading In Times of Challenge – How to use adversity to build and strengthen those you serve, and your self.

Think of the great leaders in history.  It was their very adversity that made them strong, helped build their team, their “tribe”.  This is your opportunity to go beyond your status quo and do something great for your self and those you serve.  The current challenges in your business and the world offer you the playing ground to become a better leader, to help those you lead become stronger and more confident, and to build a strong community to do something worth doing, and together build something extraordinary… here’s how:


When things get challenging, like the current economy and global issues we, as leaders, take it on.  We’re the leaders.  We’re suppose to step out front, know what to do and perfectly lead everyone.  It seems like the right thing to do but is it? 


I started noticing a pattern recently.  I was hearing it from my clients (executives, entrepreneurs, leaders and ministers) in their experiences, seeing it in leaders out in the world, and noticed it in my self.  As we were doing what we thought we should, we were separating ourselves from our greatest leadership strengths… trust in our selves, and connection and trust in the people we lead.


So I dug in to look at the problem, to learn and better understand the challenge.  I paid attention to my clients, the leaders in my life… and I looked at myself in my role as a leader.  What I realized is that everything had gotten harder because we were putting more pressure on our selves.  The more pressure we put on our selves, the more expectation we felt, and the more distant we felt from those we were leading.  In each case I saw and heard it expressed differently but the pattern I saw was… the greater the expectation we perceived, the more we believed ‘they’ wanted something different than what we had or are or were giving. 


The harder we tried, the worse we did because we’d quit connecting and hearing what was really needed, and we quit feeling supported and connected.  The pressure of our own expectation of ourselves and our fear of not being enough was building a chasm.  That chasm was leaving us with a feeling of not knowing what to do and not being enough, which was negatively impacting the power and outcome of our leadership… Sound familiar?  


For me, I couldn’t figure out what my “tribe” wanted because in my expectation of myself and my scrambling to meet that, I had disconnected from them.  And, as I wasn’t serving them as well as usual because I was trying too hard, they noticed my distance and discomfort.  As a result, there was a separation from them too… for many reasons including the very human response of wondering if there was something negative I was afraid to talk about, or if the distance was something about them personally, along with the fear and stress they were already experiencing. 


So instead of building this strong and cohesive team to work together through this challenge, we were all alone trying to figure out what to do…  separate and alone in a group.  Again… sound familiar?


(This same thing happens in friendships and love relationships when there is a problem.  Instead of working together, we can start feeling there is something the other expects from us.  If we feel unsure of what that expectation is and our personal insecurities come up we can get defensive, start to build resentments, or push away because we feel we’re not enough.  Creating more problems, instead of working together to build solutions.)


So what do we do about it?


You, the leader.  You’re not in this alone.


It’s not all up to you.  You don’t have to be perfect.  You do not have to do it all alone.  You are part of a team.   That’s the thing to remember whether you’re running a company, leading a team, supporting your congregation or are a political leader.  We are a team.  We are in this together.  Yes, we as leaders stand out front, and we are not alone.  If someone is following you, they want you to win, and they’d love to be a part of helping you succeed… if you have the interests of the group at heart.  If you don’t have their best interests at heart, you’re screwed and you shouldn’t be leading anyway.  If you do, use it.


Part of the reason I wrote this article (and do what I do), is that so much of what I read about topics such as this sound like a textbook and seem to forget that we’re human and that those we serve are resourceful and capable.  That they want to be part of something, to belong, and they want to win.  We aren’t leading helpless followers, unless we treat them as if they are and disempower them, which unfortunately was what I observed.


So, here’s the question… what would you want from your leader?  Would you want them disconnected, way out front telling you what to do?  Or, would you want them in the midst of the group saying, “We can do this.  We can get through this together!”?


Help them, help you.  Reconnect.  Remind them that you are a team.  Do this for yourself and for them.  This is a hard time for all of you. You’ve got a good team. They’re smart, capable people. They know what’s going on in the world. They understand the realities of it. They may not like it any more than you do… and that’s the point. You’re all in this adversity together, this uncomfortable situation that you don’t like. It’s not them and you; it’s all of you.  If you invite them to help and participate, it’s very likely they will.



Your Team      


People, especially when things are challenging, want to feel part of something.  They want a mission, something to do bigger than the problem, or to face the problem together.  They want a mission to focus on that makes a difference, and they want to feel/be important.  This is an opportunity to give them the experience of belonging and being important.  I’m not talking about a “mission statement” I’m talking about a mission.  Something you all believe in, that makes you all feel good about your selves to work toward.


I started coaching the CFO of a company that had just gone through their first layoff.  Moral was low, obviously profits were down.  The management team was scrambling and disconnected.  The employees were upset at management.  Things were going from bad to worse.  The company was falling apart. 


As I started working with my client, he shared that part of the problem was that this company (600 employees) was family owned and operated, and that the employees felt like a family and felt betrayed.  What I realized through that, is this company had great values.  And, that if the management team reconnected with the employees around this value, they could create a mission of ‘being in this together’ and turn things around.  They did, and that new mission, that was already there, gave the whole company a new passion and purpose.  This got things moving forward again with everyone on the same team.


As the leader, what do you really want you and your team to accomplish, not just in reaction to the problem but through the problem?  Adversity is our opportunity to grow.  How can you lead and use this challenge to build something new of you and your team, as a whole and as individuals?  How can you use and grow all of your skills and talents through this, to help all of you?  How can you go from fixing a problem to working together to build something extraordinary through the situation?



Creating Your Mission               


This is the opportunity for you and your “tribe” to use your present situation to go beyond the problem, even beyond your status quo and… (wait for it)… Go For Extraordinary! 


When I work with a client, whether an individual or a company, the point is not so much where they’ve come from or what the situation is, it is where they’re going and what they want to create.


Bear with me on this, I’m kind of a sci-fi geek… the best analogy I could think of is that moment in movies where leader is beaten, we think they are down for the count… but we hope… Then, they get back up to step into their power and become more.  Think of that moment in The Matrix where Neo gets up, flexes and becomes the person he already was but didn’t know he was until he faced that challenge.  Remember how through it all, his “tribe” believed in him and would do anything to support his success.  Now it’s your turn.


So, you’re all in this together, and this is your opportunity to use this challenge as a microcosm, to face this challenge head on and be strengthened by it… together.  To build something better than there was before.


Find your mission.  Think of your team.  What is important to you as a group?  Why are you together in the first place?  If you’re the type of leader that cares enough to have gotten this far through this article, there is something special about you and what you stand for.  What is it?  Remember I mentioned the company with the family values.  What is it that brings you and your “tribe” together, not just on the surface, on a deeper level?  Rally around that.  Remind everyone of that.


Then build your team.  Think of the individual strengths that all of you have. Think of what you want to build with them. Create a vision for yourself of how you’d like it to be. Reconnect and work with those you serve.  Let them help you, as you help them.  This is a ripe opportunity to rebuild your team in a new way. Come up with some ideas and some action steps of where you want to go, a new vision, stronger, better.  Bring your team together to help you all.


One of the things I do as a coach and leader is to get people looking forward. It’s easy to look at what we lost and what’s not working. Our job as leaders is to get people thinking about what we want to build out of the rubble, to start planning forward and even get excited about it.  An adversity like this offers an opportunity to reorganize, to build something… something better. What do you really want? What will you make of this new team of yours?


Decide what you want to build.  Then bring everybody together.  Talk about what you want to build… share your vision, share your mission.  Then tell them you want their help.  Tell them and show them, you (all of you) are a team, that each is important and together you (all of you) can work together and build something great.  That this does not have to be a time of loss but of creating.


Every adversity offers us the opportunity to face the challenge and grow from it, to become more than we were… as individuals and as a group.  Take on the challenge, rally your troupes, and build something extraordinary as a team… stronger and better than ever because… you helped each other go through this, you valued each other’s strengths and saw each other as capable and as winners.  If you use this challenge, you might just create the most powerful team you’ve ever had and you and your leadership could be better than ever.


This is our world… let’s make it great by believing in ourselves, believing in each other, and working together to do the extraordinary!


If I can help… you know where to find me, and I’d love to.  You have not chosen an easy path… and I know you can do this!!!



Also check out:  Leading After a Lay-Off


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