Leading People Through Adversity

We are living in unprecedented and adverse times. This calls for unprecedented action. Diligent management practices can only take us so far.

Business owners need to step up to the plate as leaders. We need to provide direction, instill hope, inspire and lead from the front.

Leadership is defined as the “action of leading a group of people or an organisation.”  A leader is “a person who influences a group of people towards the achievement of a goal.”

Or in the words of John Maxwell (foremost leadership authority in the world) “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.”

Leadership as fulfilled through the actions of a leader speaks to the way in which the actions and behaviour of a “group of people” is “influenced”.

Our centre of influence reaches far more people than we can ever imagine. Sociologists tell us that an introverted person would influence 10 000 others in an average lifetime. As business leaders our impact can be multiples of that because our centre of influence ripples out from ourselves to our families, our business partners and associates, our staff and their families to suppliers, clients and the community where the business is operated from. With this influence comes responsibilities.

I have chosen 10 words which can provide us with useful insights on how to lead people through adversity.

  1. Direction

The titles “managing director” or “director” says it all, we have to direct the business and staff by showing them the way. We cannot direct from the back, we need to lead from the front. This also implies that we should be very clear about the vision which we are pursuing. In his book, The E-Myth, Michael Gerber states that business owners have three very distinct roles to fulfill.

  • Technician – understanding the work of the business
  • Manager – manage the resources of the business
  • Entrepreneur – the rainmaker, opportunity seeker, plan maker and strategist

We therefore need to understand the impact of the pandemic on the business, what changes are required in response, what impact it will have on resource allocation and where and how lost revenue will be made up. As “directors” of the business we need to give direction.

  1. Attitude

Attitude is a settled way of thinking or feeling about something. The glass is either half full or half empty.

It is the “auto-pilot” way in which we respond to our environment. Our attitudes will be reflected and mimicked by our staff. Think about the snowball effect a negative attitude of a leader can have on our clients, suppliers and other colleagues.

Is your attitude worth catching?

  1. Empathy

Theodore Roosevelt once said that “People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Many people, including our staff, are going through a tough patch in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many dual income families are in financial hardship because one of the spouses/partners lost their jobs. There is also emotional hardship for people losing loved ones to Covid-19.

Show understanding and compassing by lending them an ear or giving them a hand of support. We do not necessarily have to find solutions to their problems.

  1. Openness

Open and frank communication can go a far way to give people an understanding of the real state of the business. As leaders we sometimes think we need to carry the burden alone.

Our staff are the ones engaging directly with clients, suppliers and our products and services. Ask them for input and suggestions to address the challenges in the business.

Make communication authentic and give regular updates. You may be surprised how they step up to the plate to find solutions to the challenges of the business and it will also improve buy-in on the remedial plans put forward by management.

  1. Growth

We need to develop the mind-set of a learning organisation. It might be time to re-invent the business which means that new skills need to be acquired by impacted staff.

The drive towards marginal improvement needs to be embedded in the DNA of every staff member. Marginal improvement means that every staff member will put in a conscious effort to always be on the look-out for ways in which work can be done smarter, quicker and better.

The choice is between an abundance versus a scarcity mind set. Choose abundance which will be an enabler for growth.

  1. Change

“Let the trend be your friend”. Change is inevitable. Embrace it as a normal act of business. To take people with you on the journey of change requires it to be purposeful. Change driven by a change in client needs, the operating environment and the action of competitors are productive sources that underpin the need for change.

People need to understand why they need to change and also WIIFT (what`s in it for them”).

  1. Innovation

If there is one thing which became very clear during the pandemic, it is the ability of people to find innovative ways to solve new problems and embrace the opportunities adversity brings about.

To enable innovation you might need to take bold decisions to re-assign or repurpose available resources.

You need to stay abreast of new trends, technological advancements in your industry and opportunities to pursue new markets.

  1. Action

An average plan well implemented almost always trumps an audacious plan poorly implemented.

Go into action mode by developing goals and targets, assign resources, allocate responsibilities and negotiate delivery dates and expected outcomes. Then make sure progress is monitored and adjustments are made to support and ensure successful implementation.

In this we need to take the lead – take action!

  1. Resilience

We will encounter set-backs in the course of recovery and implementation of our plans.

Stay focused on the end-goal, be pragmatic, plan out for different scenarios and decide when something is not working, then move on to the next option. The energy and optimism you project as a leader will create an environment where people will find their own motivation to walk the extra mile.

  1. Courage

As leaders we should have the courage to make the difficult decisions for example to close a loss making division, to lay redundant staff off in a humane and fair way and to “fire” our clients who are not adding value to the bottom line.

We need to face adversity head-on, have the courage to lead from the front and persevere until we have succeeded.

In doing all this we need to remember and live by the golden rule as put forward by John Maxwell.

We need to remember that people want to be valued, appreciated, trusted, respected and understood. Always ask the following question: “How would I like to be treated in this situation?”

This will help you to pause and think about your next step or action.

May these brief guidelines serve you well in your endeavours to navigate your business and it`s most valuable asset – it`s people – through the maze of uncertainty brought about by the economic challenges and hardship in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Go well and lead your people through adversity!

Jannie Rossouw is a Symmetry RAP Advisor and Founder of Symmetry Partner Bright Future Consulting, and advisory and soundboarding agency that offers both personal and business coaching services. 

Book a direct consultation with Jannie or an obligation free first meeting with the Bright Future Consulting team via the Symmetry Tools & Services.