Leading In Extreme Circumstances

by Mar 19, 2020Leadership

The collective concern felt by people everywhere is palpable. My clients, senior leaders in both board and executive roles, are asking for advice. Of course, my advice depends upon their particular situation and most clients have multiple currents of disruption happening now. To make matters more challenging, there is no shortage of advice about how to handle the psychological aspects of the situation. Rest assured, my advice is grounded in the science of behavior. In times of great uncertainty, leaders cannot afford to resort to stock phrases and vacuous bromides.

Every leader, in every company should make decisions based on their specific context but principles of human behavior can be extremely valuable now. Here are nine important aspects of leading through very rough waters that will stand leaders and managers in any situation in good stead.

  1. Be a calm leader.

The most important job of a leader is self-management. This requires leaders to:

  • Communicate with clarity
  • Establish and hold appropriate boundaries
  • Prepare to respond to questions, even pointed questions
  1. Provide a clear strategic direction.

Paint a compelling picture of the future that is declarative.

  1. Include an inspirational message.

Describe the long view. Help others connect to the purpose of your organization and what makes them proud.

  1. Articulate accomplishments.

Remind people of what has been achieved. What challenges have been faced before and what did people do to adapt and innovate? What were the beneficial results?

  1. Help people see the capability that already exists and how those strengths made other changes possible and successful.

Lay claim to the characteristics of your organization that enable important changes such as a spirit of innovation, energy to rally for an important cause, and the ability to effectively prioritize and focus. Importantly, the ability to tolerate and empathize with those who are fearful and anxious.

Here are nine important aspects of leading through very rough waters that will stand leaders and managers in any situation in good stead. Click To Tweet
  1. Establish expectations.

Tell people what you expect them to do and be clear about what behaviors are not needed or helpful. Tell people who/where to go for information.

  1. Help others see how they can play a role.

The better you know your people and the better your relationships, the better positioned you are to influence them. In rough waters, people respond best when leaders connect the “big idea” to something specific and personally meaningful.

  1. Listen to criticism.

Listen to criticism and resistance. Leaders can learn from it and model appropriate behavior. Further, listening helps to build a culture where people aren’t afraid to speak up if they see something that isn’t right. Leaders who are over-confident are more dangerous when risks run high.

  1. Remove people who are actively, purposefully destructive.

While some behavior can be unpleasant – someone who questions a great deal, for example – most people aren’t destructive. If someone’s queries cannot be adequately addressed, and they turn to destructive means such as name-calling and gaslighting, leaders must take decisive action. Leaders are responsible to create safe cultures and allowing destructive behaviors to go unaddressed is a failure of leadership.

Most people are wonderfully resilient, but uncertainty makes even the most robust among us anxious. Anxiety can show up in many ways including aggression or withdrawal. It can also be used in very productive ways which many people will initiate on their own. Leaders who channel energy help the most, especially when they are channeling their own. 

Leaders who find that they are unsure about what to do should ask for help. While their team members are the ones to help with specific plans and actions, they can’t be expected to be a sounding board or source of independent advice, especially during tumult. Leaders not only deserve a measure of confidentiality, they are better able to be genuinely calm even if they are simultaneously unsure. Every organization needs its leaders to look first at their own state of mind and behavior. The payoff for the leader and others is extraordinary.