Leading in Difficult Times

I was talking to a friend the other day and we were reminiscing about a business we worked at that went through a really rough period. Market demand had dropped, orders were down, margins were being squeezed, and we had a new business system that limited our view of the situation.

He mentioned something that really struck me.

He said, “I’m glad we went through that time because it made me a much better leader.

He’s right.

Leading during difficult times takes everything you have but the truth is, you will be better off because of the experience.

Having led both military and business organizations through some pretty difficult periods, I’m convinced that tough times make you a better leader.

Tough times make you a better leader Click To Tweet

Let me suggest five reasons why:

Tough times require you to operate at your highest level. When the seas are calm and the weather is nice, you don’t have to be at the top of your game. But tough times require an intense, 24/7 focus on the problem. As a leader, everyone in the organization is watching you and depending on you to make the right decisions to lead them out of the situation. It requires focus, determination, decisiveness, courage, intensity, and perseverance. It will take your absolute best.

You learn a lot about yourself during tough times. The challenge of leading during difficult times is learning to deal with those voices of self-doubt, fear, and worry while your team is depending on you for confidence and strength. Tough times are the ultimate test of a leader’s character and resolve. There is nothing that will boost confidence more than facing the toughest challenge in your career and coming out on top.

Tough times are the ultimate test of a leader’s character and resolve. Click To Tweet

You build strong bonds with your team during tough times. When you stand shoulder to shoulder with your team through a crisis, you build a bond that can last a lifetime. When a leader and a team step up and work together through a tough situation, it builds a powerful new level of trust and respect. The overall capability of the organization is forever enhanced through this experience.

Tough times give you a new perspective. Your perspective forever changes from having withstood a difficult period. You have a much greater appreciation for when times are good. You also are less likely to let people, politics, and minor issues get you down. Tough times help build your maturity as a leader.

Your perspective forever changes from having withstood a difficult period. Click To Tweet

Tough times become an anchor point for the rest of your career. Great leaders can almost always point to a time in their careers when they became great. In most cases, it was leading an organization through a tough situation. The most difficult situation you face may actually be the defining moment in your career.

Most of us don’t want to go through difficult times. It’s human nature to want things to be easy. The problem is when things are easy and you aren’t challenged, you don’t grow. 

Confidence and maturity as a leader come from dealing with your self-doubt and fears while overcoming adversity.

So, instead of complaining or worrying about the current COVID-19 pandemic, why not try to celebrate these tough days?

Yes, the times are hard. But this may be the best thing that ever happened to you as a leader!

I’ve been covering the issue of leading in a crisis daily on my Twitter account, so make sure to follow me and add your thoughts to this conversation.

Deep Leadership Podcast

Also, listen to my interview with Monty Granger on my podcast. Monty is a retired Army Major who was called into action to set up the Army medical facilities at Guantanamo Bay right after 9/11. He knows what it means to lead through a crisis.

 

 

 

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jonathan Clay)

Who’s Your Chief?

When I was just 23 years old, fresh out of submarine school, I was given my first leadership job.

I was assigned to lead the team of sailors who maintained and operated the complex systems that controlled the nuclear reactor on the USS Tennessee. It was a small group led by a senior enlisted sailor, a Chief Petty Officer, who had come up through the ranks.

The Chief Petty Officer was not only skilled, but he was also highly experienced. He had been in the Navy for almost as many years as I had been alive. He was older than me and had infinitely more knowledge in the maintenance and operation of nuclear reactor controls. And the team looked to him for guidance.

Yet, I was in charge.

Many new leaders find themselves in this exact situation. They are asked to lead teams of older, more experienced employees.

Many new leaders find themselves in this exact situation. They are asked to lead teams of older, more experienced employees. Click To Tweet

So, how can you be an effective leader if you’re young and inexperienced? It’s simple.

Find your Chief and learn from them.

You’re probably thinking – How do I find my Chief? In the Navy it was easy but how do I find my Chief in a business environment? Look for the person in the organization who is the opinion leader. Usually, they are a senior employee and a technical expert.

Find out who the team naturally goes to for all the answers.

Find out who the team naturally goes to for all the answers. Click To Tweet

That person is your Chief.

That’s the person you want to build a relationship with and learn from. In most cases, they don’t want your job, they are happy being the senior, technical expert. If you show them respect and learn from them, you will become a more effective leader for the team.

Deep Leadership PodcastListen to my conversation with retired Chief Petty Officer, Chuck Whitworth on the latest episode of the Deep Leadership podcast to understand the important relationship between the Leader and the Chief.

And, if you need more ideas on how to be an effective leader, get a copy of my latest book – I Have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following. It’s filled with 23 practical ideas on how you can become a more effective leader.

 

Photo: USS Key West Chief of the Boat Master Chief Nicholas Harr (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kelsey J. Hockenberger)

Have you had a “Follow Me” Moment?

You’ve probably heard the expression, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”

It could also be put another way, “Don’t just stand there, do something!”

If you’re anything like me, you can’t stand inaction. I have a low tolerance for people who talk more than they act. Maybe that’s why I always say, don’t tell me what you’re going to do, just do it!

I became a leader because I wanted to get things done.

My answer to the question of “Lead, follow, or get out of the way” has always been to lead. And, if you subscribe to this email and listen to my podcast, you probably feel the same way.

I talked about this issue with Air Force veteran Mitchell Boling on the latest episode of the Deep Leadership podcast. We talked about the time he first realized he was a leader. He called it his “follow me” moment.

He relates the “follow me” moment to something like an Army Sergeant who jumps up and beckons his troops to follow him to take a hill.

In Mitch’s case, as a new team leader, he agreed to take a weekend assignment to give his team some time off but he needed someone to help him. When he asked for volunteers, every hand shot up. He said, “it gave me goosebumps.” It was at this point, he realized he was the leader and people were willing to stand up and follow him.

How about you?

Have you had a “follow me” moment yet where you realized you were the leader – where everyone looked to you for direction?

Did it humble you to know that a group of people were now depending on you to lead them effectively? Did it send chills down your spine knowing you were now responsible for the success of your team?

If you haven’t had this experience yet, you need to ask yourself – Are you really a leader or do you just have a fancy title?

As John Maxwell says, “If you think you’re leading, but no one is following, then you are only taking a walk.”

“If you think you're leading, but no one is following, then you are only taking a walk.” John Maxwell Click To Tweet

If you’ve been assigned to lead people, do it. Be the leader they need, don’t just go for a walk.

 

If you need some ideas on how to be an effective leader, get a copy of my latest book – I Have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following. It’s filled with 23 practical ideas on how you can become a more effective leader.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[Photo credit: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Jordan Gilbert]