How to lead in challenging times

Too many leaders get caught in the act of doing rather than been present with those they are in fact leading or attempting to influence.

 Having worked in crisis and disaster areas across the globe including Indonesia following the Bali Bombings, Thailand in the aftermath of the South East Asian tsunami, Saudi Arabia post the deadly floods in Jeddah and Japan following the tsunami of 2011, I have witnessed the response of individual leaders with and without positional authority.

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True leaders are not defined by the position they hold, but their actions and reactions.  In times of crisis or indeed enormous opportunity, it is not the position or title that you possess but what you do which is most critical.

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There are in my experience four key actions that will define a leader, particularly in times of great pressure:

  1. To act with Speed – When an opportunity presents to lead, so often it will fall to those who move first, those who take decisive action and step forward.  If you wait until you have all the answers to all of the questions prior to taking action – someone will beat you to it. When an opportunity presents in the marketplace so often those they move first will hold that position. You may not need to be the best, but being the first will often ensure you hold that position of authority.
  1. To lead with Sensitivity – If we are not facing change we are not growing.  Change upsets people and that is a good thing, but how we respond to that is important.  If we understand that most people are resistant to change, yet we acknowledge change is necessary for growth, what do we do to address those issues of resistance, prior to implementing that change? Anticipating the points of resistance and dealing with those prior to commencing the change program will see a smoother transition.
  1. To have a Structure – you can’t lead an effective organisation without an effective structure and it is necessary for consistency in results and performance.  But with too much structure you take away the decision making ability of your leaders, you dampen creativity and you end up with managers not leaders.
  1. To lead with Simplicity – this follows on from the previous point.  Your leaders need to make decisions without deliberation.  If they make a decision with integrity and good intent and get it wrong they will be forgiven.  If they fail to make a decision for fear of making the wrong decision, they won’t be forgiven.

Overarching these four key points is the importance of the presence of leaders.  Executive presence sits on three levels.  Leadership of the brand you represent, leadership of your team and finally leadership of yourself.

If your team, clients or customers don’t see you often enough they will think two things. The first is that you don’t care and the second is that you don’t understand the challenges they are facing.  Leaders should not underestimate the value of their presence when it comes to leading.

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