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How to lead in tough times 

By CCIWA Editor 

When times are tough, the instinct can be to bunker down, tighten the reigns and rule with an iron fist. 

But recent experience has shown the most effective way to lead through challenging times is to reset goals, be open and honest with staff then get out of their way and let them to their job. 

Australian-based business leadership expert and author Dr Peter Fuda said it was a common misconception in the business community that more control was better in trying times. 

“There can be a natural tendency to become more controlling get more directive, dive down into each and every operational issue when times are tough. Our experience and research suggests this is the wrong thing to do,” Fuda said.  

“CEOs would be better off, where appropriate, to redefine the goals and standards of the organisation, then give people the autonomy and incentives to pursue those goals without being constantly second-guessed. That is far more likely to be effective in getting people to perform.” 

“It is natural for staff to feel vulnerable, suspicious and even powerless at these times.” 

Every business will experience adversity at some stage, be it an economic downturn, threat from a competitor or industry disruption.  

It is natural for staff to feel vulnerable, suspicious and even powerless at these times. Your role as a leader is to do more than focus on cost cutting, you must be open and optimistic; listen to and empower your staff.  

The more employees understand and feel able to contribute to your business goals, the harder they will work to achieve them.  

Some more tips for leading through down times: 

  • Lead, don’t dictate: It’s not a time for being authoritarian. Central to this is an understanding that true leadership is the ability to inspire others to achieve a common goal. It is not about enforcing compliance. 
  • Be honest, but not a doomsayer: Let your staff know what the outlook is, but don’t harp on the negatives. Focus on strategy moving forwards. 
  • Open your ears and your mind: Listen to staff – both their concerns and ideas. Your employees may understand certain aspects of your business better than you. Encourage their input and be open to trying suggestions. 
  • Focus on what you can control: Make your customer experience the best it can be. 
  • Set goals: Set goals for the business and your employees – everyone needs to know they are working towards a future, not just surviving today. 
  • Have clear expectations: Employees need to understand exactly what is expected of them and ensure these are realistic, given any change of circumstance. 
  • Share success stories: Everyone wants to hear good news when times are tough. 
  • Reward hard work: It doesn’t need to be monetary, but acknowledge staff who are putting in hard yards. A little praise, a bottle of wine or a movie voucher can go a long way. 
  • Remember it’s not just about cutting costs and/or staff: When times are tough, try to focus on growth. Attack can often be the best form of defence. Look for new opportunities to reposition your business. Examine your competitors and customers. Are there any unmet needs on the edge of your market you could capitalise on? 
When times are tough, the instinct can be to bunker down, tighten the reigns and rule with an iron fist.  But recent experience has shown the most effective way to lead through challenging times is to reset goals, be open and honest with staff then get out of their way and let them to their job. 

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