Leading Through Adversity

The pandemic resulted in a massive shift in the culture of work with many employees dubbing working from home as “the new norm”. Companies had to be nimble in getting a workforce set up with the proper tools and procedures to work from home effectively while maintaining a strong company culture from distributed environments.

Now as life is slowly returning to pre-pandemic levels and some of the workforce has been transitioning back to in person work either fulltime or a hybrid work from home model. There is tension between employees and employers on what the work model should look like as employers strive to have maximum productivity, while employees want to keep their flexible schedule and prioritize their personal lives. This has contributed to the “great resignation” as employees are shifting jobs in search of better benefits.

There’s a lot of instability in the never before tried hybrid work model, and we are coming into a time of adversity. Many of the fantastic innovative companies we see today have been born in the last 20 years and have not really had to face a lot of adversity in the market as it has been a strong economy and bull market cycle. Cost money has been low enabling us to borrow build and expand businesses. Many leaders have not been through a cycle of inflation or face a difficult market environment. The IPO market is not attractive, lending rates are going up, investor mindset has shifted from growth to profitability.

We are now entering a cycle of adversity and it will we will all have to hone our leadership skills. We need to rethink how we engage with our employees, how we build our culture and build a strong cohesive enterprise that executes and operationalizes the strategy in this challenging and adverse cycle.

Here are some of the things that my pattern recognition has taught me:

1. The CEO and leadership team needs to show up in the office. If you show up others will follow. Everybody wants to be where the power is. They want to learn, they want to grow, they want to be seen, they want to be recognized. If ever there was a time for mentoring and coaching it is now. If you show up the rest of the team will come back. FOMO is real. If you come, they will come.

2. The little things matter in this time of adversity. Many peoples stock options are underwater. We are still in the great war for talent and the great resignation. Little things matter. Sitting with people, coaching them, helping them learn and develop their skills will make all the difference in their loyalty to you.

3. Lead with empathy It is more important than ever to appreciate your employees and recognize their contributions. Encourage your team leaders to recognize and acknowledge the challenges the team is working through, whether it’s having to restructure or do more with less budget, whether it’s reprioritizing and keeping to scheduled commitments… it is a time of pressure and it is important to recognize your employees who are performing under pressure.

4. Clarity is key. Make the decisions. Explain the tradeoffs. Align the OKRs and deliverables. Be in touch daily / weekly. Debrief, learn from the losses and celebrate the wins.

When facing times of adversity, a CEO has to shift their mindset from being a visionary peace-time growth-focused CEO to become a wartime, crisis management, operationally focused CEO.

Adversity calls for a wartime leader. You need to build a clear crisp vision of what your goals are and what success “feels like”. You have to weave a tight team who will go on to the battlefield with you. They need to feel your courage, clarity, and conviction about winning to follow you into this phase of your company challenges as you work through adversity.

When you look at some of the attributes of great leaders, the attributes that allowed them to gain followership are:

1. Integrity: A great leader always acts with integrity and earns the respect and trust of their team.

2. Decisiveness: The ability to quickly take in data, evaluate the options, and make an informed decision rapidly will enable the company to keep moving forward.

3. Knowledge: Staying up to date on the latest industry trends, and having a finger on the pulse of the socio-economic status will enable the leader to make the right calls.

4. Endurance: The ability to endure hardship and not let losses deter you or shake your confidence in the mission and vision for your organization will enable you to propel the business forward.

5. Self-Awareness: A great leader must have the self-awareness to know their strengths and weaknesses so they can surround themselves with the right team to augment them where they are not as strong. Do not be a leader that tries to cover up weaknesses, rather focus on flexing your strengths and have the wisdom to rely on those who are stronger in other areas guide you (stay humble).

When going through a challenging time, be sure that you have empowered all of your employees to make decisions, be accountable and give you feedback and view your team as true thought-partners. Foster camaraderie amongst the team. You must be a visionary and inspire the team to see the end goal with you so everyone know they will be winning together as a team.

Followership is key when leading through adversity. If your people feel you view them as anonymous employees, they will not be motivated to dig their heels in and stand by you through the hard times. Your team needs to feel that you are their greatest ally and advocate and that you are genuinely rooting for each of their individual successes, not just the success of the company.

This is an opportunity to grow as a leader and maximize each colleagues’ abilities. Be inspired by George Patton’s mantra for leading through adversity, “A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow!”

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