There is no shortage of people who want to lead companies and exhibit authority. However, few of these people are true leaders. The presence of a real leader is not determined by a title. Rather, it is determined by the way he or she recognizes hope and opportunity during difficult times, instills confidence, motivates employees, inspires ideas, anticipates challenges and proactively formulates solutions.

Someone who merely holds a title, on the other hand, freezes in panic, dissolves into bitterness and begins eroding teams from the inside out with toxic behavior. Stress, anxiety and fear are hallmarks of workplaces run by this type of leader.

Those in a position of leadership must exhibit authenticity and empathy to successfully steer the ship in turbulent waters. While professionalism is always essential, these uniquely gifted individuals lead with their head and their heart. So, how is this executed successfully? The six tips below offer helpful guidance on leading with excellence during challenging times.

1.) Be Open to Different Perspectives 

Regardless of industry, products/services or size, every single business is staffed by people who are diverse in some way. A narrow perspective inevitably leaves people out and can easily cause damage to the workplace culture and, ultimately, the company itself.

In 2016, an article in the Harvard Business Review titled “The Limits of Empathy” by Adam Waytz discussed the importance of displaying empathy in the workplace. (1) In the article, Waytz detailed how Ford Motor Company used an empathy belly and foggy vision on employees to simulate symptoms of pregnancy and aging. The organization did this to help employees understand other perspectives and get critical insight that would aid them in tasks such as product development and marketing.

PRO TIP:  Our world is evolving and changing at an incredibly rapid pace.  Agility isn’t just about process and product or services it’s also about people.  Have candid conversations and encourage open dialogue that address fears among staff and buyers.  How can your leadership help better manage these fears, uncertainty and doubt?  Those companies that are able to quickly respond to these concerns and make adjustments will lead the market as well as better establish trust with the people they serve.

2.) Practice Active Listening 

The importance of being an active listener has been preached for many years and there is good reason for it. First, to fully process information, people must listen carefully. This is especially critical in a business setting because missing certain pieces of information can prove disastrous.

Secondly, active listening fosters trust and respect while encouraging an open dialogue. Listening is an imperative piece of streamlined and professional communication among co-workers.

PRO TIP:  As leaders implement policies and changes, be aware of your own fears, biases and active positions on controversial topics that may hinder active listening.  Employees should not be apprehensive when approaching a leader to discuss policies that may pose an unfair hardship, may be unclear or overly complex, or may come from fear of the unknown instead of an educated perspective.

3.) Communicate Openly and Transparently 

Communication between leadership and employees should always be open – without losing a professional tone. Similarly, leadership should be transparent with employees. An open, honest dialogue makes employees feel like they are truly part of the team and that leadership respects them.

In 2020, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson discussed the challenges his company was experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic with both his employees and stakeholders. (2) It was one of the best examples in recent history of transparent, authentic communication that conveyed a sense of empathy.

4.) Demonstrate Compassion 

Challenging times bring emotions such as fear, uncertainty and doubt. Employees and stakeholders may want to discuss these feelings and get reassurance from leadership.

While there may not always be good news to share, leadership can still demonstrate progress the business has made to help boost morale. Sharing plans about how the organization will handle the unexpected also helps employees feel informed and safe – and this will improve their performance.

PRO TIP:  One of the most misunderstood aspects of human interaction is how people respond to bad news or react in times of crisis.  Anger, crying, frustration, silence, and confusion are all very normal responses.  Leaders should not look to only to shining stars with positive responses as those coping well as often this can be a mask of the many emotions happening beneath the surface.  Be aware of “iceberg” emotions that can impact morale and watch closely for any symptoms and signs of problems.

5.) Remain Optimistic 

Contrary to the belief held by some people, optimism is not rationalization or delusion. Instead, it is an unwavering sense of confidence that the organization can withstand anything thrown at it. It is faith in the employees who allow the business to operate day in and day out. Displaying optimism sends a message to employees that leadership values the skills, knowledge and work ethic they bring to the table.

Levis Strauss CEO Chip Bergh wrote an inspiring letter of encouragement to employees: “…We can learn and adapt…so we can emerge stronger…We will get through this…and be a better and stronger company as a result….” (3)

6.) Commit to Self-Care 

It is nearly impossible for leaders to make the right decisions, guide and support their employees if they themselves are burned out, stressed out or both. For this reason, it is critical for leaders to avoid becoming physically, mentally or emotionally exhausted.

Carving out a bit of time for rest and relaxation is not optional. It is as necessary for business success as balancing the books, providing excellent customer service and leveraging marketing campaigns.

PRO TIP:  Leaders may be tempted to work extra hours or request that middle managers pitch-in to right the ship.  However, as Warren Buffet once noted, it takes less energy to move people into a new vessel then to focus efforts on plugging the holes of a leaky one.  Rather than overworking, focus instead on the three to five things that can be done that will be the most effective.

True leadership is about much more than getting a title or making the big decisions. When those in leadership positions step up and follow these tips, they will lead their organization to long-term success.

Uncertain times call for creative thinking. Contact Gavel International to be inspired with solutions that connect and engage your people. 






Jeff Richards