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5 Ways Great Leaders Get Through Difficult Times

Overnight there has been a shift to isolated employees, closures and layoffs, combined with broader fears of recession, unemployment, and the unknown future of COVID-19's evolution. These events are impacting everyone and require incredibly difficult decisions from leaders of businesses, large and small, around the world. What does a good leader do in this situation? What does it really mean to be a good leader? We all know it doesn’t mean being liked by everyone, though likability does hold a lot of weight with employees. But, decisions need to be made that will hurt people and will not be universally liked.

We know that what worked yesterday will not necessarily work tomorrow - the traits that made leaders successful in the 1950s are different than what worked in the 1990s, which are different than what will work in the 2020s. The leaders who excel at growth, scaling, and new opportunities are not always great at leading through layoffs, plant/store/office closures, and cost-cutting, and vice-versa. At the same time, there are certain traits that are present in every great leader just as there are leaders who are great through ups, downs, and crises alike.

So, in the face of fear, doubt, and uncertainty, what are the traits that make one great? What makes some succeed while others fold? Today, we share 5 traits and tips from those leaders that helped companies survive and outperform in difficult social and economic times:

1. Have a Purpose.

Great leaders are true to their company's purpose and values and do not let negative obstacles, such as shrinking profits, distract them from that purpose. They refuse to compromise standards to appease employees, shareholders, or investors; rather, they embrace those obstacles and rally employees behind their common purpose. This commitment to a shared purpose builds confidence inside and outside an organization, giving them a chance to stabilize and adjust their approach, offerings, markets, and/or organizational structure to fit the new situation and prepare for what's next.

2. Be Vulnerable.

Great leaders are quick to embrace the reality of a situation without making excuses and, at the same time, are not afraid to admit their own fears, mistakes or missteps. They openly share their uncertainties and ask for help to make it through difficult times. They communicate regularly, openly, and honestly – they don’t hide the bad only to have it surprise everyone down the road. This “vulnerability” builds incredible trust, camaraderie and devotion behind a leader and a company and instills an “us” culture over an “every man for himself” culture.

3. Be Decisive.

Tough times demand tough decisions, there is no getting around that. The leaders that carry their companies most effectively through difficult times are decisive but not impulsive; they assess their options, gather input from trusted stakeholders, and make a firm decision – even if it is disliked by some or many. This may include cutting bonuses and/or salaries before laying people off or delaying the launch of a new store or product. There is no clear path in the face of difficulty or crisis, which makes decision-making all the harder, but great leaders know that delaying a hard decision only makes it worse.

4. Stay Human; Help Others.

Great leaders don’t become selfish in the face of crisis. They recognize that their success is not only because of their team and employees, but also their customers, suppliers, partners, and competitors. They are not going to price gouge customers to boost the bottom line, just as they don’t want their suppliers to go out of business because they gave them the cold shoulder when things got tough. Great leaders see the human impact of all their decisions and they do not take that lightly.

5. Be Optimistic.

Above all, they remind everyone, through their words and their actions, that there WILL be a recovery and they will all be present and ready when it comes.

We hope these tips and reminders help you and your team as you face seemingly impossible situations and difficult decisions. The more we all help each other, the better we will be on the other side.


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