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How to lead your team through the best (and worst) times

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It feels like we are moving from one global crisis to another with almost no delay, and I find myself having more and more conversations with so many of my peers about the differences in leading through the peaks and troughs of this current cycle.

Whether it’s a pandemic, global turmoil or recession, CEOs are expected to lead, motivate and drive business. But the approaches and tools needed by the same leaders are vastly different in good times and bad. So the question is, how do you change your leadership approach and do you have a natural tendency to lead in one way or the other?

Before we get into the hallmark traits for leaders, it’s worth untangling the difference at ground level (i.e. the team) as well. In times of crisis people in organizations find comfort and solace in the team itself, in working and progressing in the company of the group, while in more prosperous positive cycles it can be said that individuals prioritize their own personal meaning and travel. This is where you need to do more work to make employees feel like they’re part of the bigger team.

Related: Successful Leadership Tactics in Times of Crisis

How to lead through good and bad times?

The universal overarching emphasis for any CEO is that the team believes, feels and acts as part of a unit. The act of making this happen differs based on multiple external influencers driving team behavior and, of course, the CEO’s fundamental shift in connecting with teams through good times and bad.

CEOs who lead in times of external (or internal) crisis must make decisive steps and set goals, provide clear instructions and beat the drum to rally the cohort, all while remaining resilient and strong. The key here is brief, deliberate and focused communication with a high degree of repetition. The “ground” – also known as your team – is afraid, so they need clearer instructions and they often need it, because this is what ultimately gives them the safety net to be part of the team.

CEOs managing in less tumultuous times need to find more creative ways to engage and engage employees, encourage empathy, and give people space to think about intertwining their purpose with that of the organization. This approach gives them more possibilities to interpret vision and ideas and allows them to manage this more themselves. As the team moves forward, the CEO must also use a Swiss knife of activities, tools and frameworks to move the family that comes with it forward.

In the conversations I’ve had with my colleagues over the years (good times and bad), here’s some insights into how the two different CEO archetypes work in the workplace and make business decisions.

Related: How to Become a Better Leader Through a Crisis?

1. Survive and prosper is a team effort led by a strong compassionate leader

We’ve all learned this crucial lesson coming from Covid-19 – and it’s one to keep in mind as we all face the next financial and geopolitical crises. We can’t do it alone, but at the same time find comfort in the fact that there is a strong leader at the helm who gives us the necessary updates. We need both leadership and a strong team to support the game plan. Without one, the other falls.

When the heat from an externality does set in, you also realize the importance of your company’s culture and its strength in holding the company together. In many ways, an appearance calamity is a melting pot moment to turn upside down and use it as a way to tell your culture story properly. Buddha always said, “true wisdom comes from experience, not from the intellect.”

2. Regardless of the global climate, CEOs must be malleable

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership, and the key is being able to move quickly to support what’s needed based on externality – you don’t want to be the leader stuck in crisis mode when everyone else is on the prairie is.

During Covid, the most important lessons for me personally were to be both very decisive (i.e. know your plan) and be able to communicate with both strength and empathy. In the same vein, you have to constantly do less, but do better – whether that be employee experience or product initiatives – and the key is to build a mindset of hunger because that keeps everyone in a heightened sense of spirit and alertness.

Knowing how to prioritize the needs of the business while balancing those of your employees is essential to success as a business leader. It is even more important to be able to continuously shift those priorities to the current economic or geopolitical environment.

Related: Why the Ukraine Crisis Should Make You Rethink How You Lead

3. Simplicity and intention are key in a crisis

As leaders in crisis situations, we must focus on intent and make very direct, often difficult, but simple decisions and directions for our team. Today, the current geopolitical climate forces our hands on how we do business and who we do business with.

As leaders, we must make these decisions and communicate them in a direct and clear manner. And we must lean on our next in line to support these decisions. By allowing specialized teams to focus on and move each decision forward, the intent and goals remain clear. When stress is high, your teams will always be driven by simple and clear directions.

4. Create a sense of security and progress, regardless of the climate

It sounds obvious that your workplace should provide a sense of security (wellness, equity and financial security). But it’s vital to your business in 2022, because only when you can create a “circle of safety” will everyone work together as a unified team.

Our job as leaders is to continue to provide both the security that comes with the good times and the security we seek in the bad times. How do we do that? It starts with setting up a North Star for your team – where everyone in the organization has an eye for the well-being of the team in addition to the purpose and direction of the company – and that these things are easy to understand as part of the business – DNA.

From a directional standpoint, leaders should be relentless in pushing an inverted pyramid work model, where employees focus most of their energy on tasks critical to their position, passions, and performance. This means that everyone is driven by a deliberate, authentic and relentless pursuit of excellence.

Your teams need a leader who can create both safety and progress. By identifying, creating and embracing melting pot moments that bring people together, you will find opportunities every day to strengthen your organization, no matter what is happening around you.

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