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5 Ways to Lead Your Company through Tough Times

August 12, 2020
Written by James Kenneth Koh

We are currently living and working in unprecedented times. As business leaders, we now know what it really feels like to enter unchartered waters – to be thrown onto a roller coaster with no warning at all. When it comes to managing a team, however, it’s not simply about getting everyone quickly adjusted to “the new normal”; it’s also about making sure you, the team, and of the organisation at large weather the storm, getting through to the other side relatively unscathed.

So, what are the secrets to leading a team to success in difficult times? This post will focus on 5 tips for managers and business leaders to keep in mind – not just while navigating (or dealing with the aftermath of) the COVID-19 pandemic, but any time your business, organisation, sector or market experiences a dip.

1. Don’t get defensive

When times are tough, you need to have a solution mind-set as a leader; to have the mental strength and agility to ‘course correct’ as soon as you realise your initial strategy might not be going quite according to plan. But above all, it’s about being proactive and never getting defensive (or defeatist), especially in front of your staff.

It’s not a time for excuses. It’s not a time for getting too caught up in strategy. And it’s definitely not a time to worry about stuff that is completely outside of your control. Elvis once said, “a little less conversation, a little more action please!” – and he was absolutely right.

Make sure your team members can see you (or if they are working remotely that they are at least aware that you) are staying positive and doing everything within your control to make positive changes. Keep tweaking your actions until you get back on track.

Encourage all your team members to punch above their weight and ensure that all their actions are helping the bottom line.

2. The power of transparent communication

I once had a boss who told me that a good manager will never be accused of over communicating. This couldn’t be more true than in turbulent times, when all eyes are on you – whether you like it or not.

Your top priorities should be ensuring that A: your team trusts that you know what you are doing, B: are confident where you (and the business) are heading, and above all, C: they know you are working right alongside them, ready to support them.

Nobody in your team is a mind reader. Never assume that your team can predict your ideas or plans to get them to the other side. Never assume that your actions are understood or that your plans are clear.

Update everyone on your plan of action – every step of the way. If the plan needs to change or pivot, tell them why. Be honest. Transparency is key.

Communicate the common goal even if you think you’re starting to sound like a broken record. Be upfront and continue to encourage everyone to focus on achieving this common goal. In tough times there may be several shorter-term goals that everyone is striving for. But ensure that office politics are put aside (obviously easier when your team is forced to work remotely) and make sure everyone’s aligned and that all hands are on deck.

Getting this right will enable your organisation to leapfrog its competitors when the market rebounds.

3. Make culture more of a priority than ever before

Culture may not be top of mind during a downturn (especially when your team might not even be in the office together).

Whilst it may often seem clichéd for organisations to claim that they’re people-first, or that their people are their greatest asset, nothing rings truer when times are tough. As a leader, you need to reinforce your organisational values. making your people and your culture even more of a priority.

Let them know you’ve got their back. Let them know you are listening, and that you understand their concerns. Create a safe space. Give them some lee-way. Let them know you appreciate their anxiety about the uncertainty and focus on creating a culture that engenders a common purpose – that we’ll all get through this together.

Prove to your team that you will put their livelihoods over profits. Don’t make them take a pay cut without letting them know that you (and all the senior management team) are also taking a pay cut.

4. Hold your staff close… but your customers even closer

In difficult times it’s important to show your customers that you are still there for them. Yes. Even if they might not be in a position to buy from you. It’s time to forget about the supplier-client relationship, and to focus on being their trusted advisor.

Keep in touch with all your customers whether it’s via email, phone or video chat – but not in an overly sales-y way. Let them know you are thinking of them. Reach out. Ask them how they’re doing. If you can try to help your customers without necessarily expecting something in return, they’ll be right there to support you when things get back to normal.

Remember: what goes around, comes around.

5. You don’t always need to be the hero

You feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. All eyes are on you. And in troubled times you find yourself working harder than ever before, yet there doesn’t seem to be any recognition for your efforts, any reprieve, or at times even a speck light at the end of the tunnel…

Sounds familiar?

You can’t afford to burn out. Your business certainly can’t afford it either. It’s imperative that you take some time out for yourself. There are only so many hours in a day and you can’t work through all of them.

Sleep, meditation and spiritual time, physical exercise, and fresh air are absolutely essential even in the toughest of times. If you look pale and sleep deprived, your staff will have a right to panic. If they know you are still exercising, eating well, and taking some time out to look after numero uno, everyone will feel better.

*       *       *

Whenever you are thrown headfirst into the washing machine’s spin cycle and you feel like your world has turned upside down – as hard as this concept may be to grasp – you need to do whatever you can to embrace the change and lead the charge. Focus on coming up with a plan to move forward.

A time of uncertainty is no time for a pity party. It’s a time to roll up your sleeves, show your team that you understand the situation and that you genuinely care for them. And listen to Elvis… get the right balance between the talk and action.

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