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Leading in Difficult Times

Many readers of this newsletter and many Tasimba guests are leaders in business, in their communities or in society. Our CEO Hugh Coppen, who is a leadership coach and consultant (when he is not leading our safaris!) has published an article about leadership behaviors required in times of crisis. We hope you will enjoy this condensed version.

The massive uncertainty, created by the present global Coronavirus turmoil, has an unprecedented impact on our homes and businesses around the world.  For many people, 24-hour news saturation has created a deep sense of fear and uncertainty. That’s no great surprise when the world feels like it is spinning off its axis.

It is at times like this that effective leadership becomes more critical than ever for us to survive and, once again, thrive.   Leadership best practices that matter most in difficult times are exactly the same ones that the best leaders practice at all times.  The difference is that, in difficult times, they are the very linchpin of survival.

Here are five key behaviors that, in my professional experience, are paramount when times are tough:

  1. Be calm and be clear

One of the most important tasks of the leader when everything looks bleak and unpredictable is to remain composed and focused.  People want and need calm and stability. They want leaders to be very clear in what they say and do, and to be practical, realistic and true to their values.  Most of all they want leaders to have a rock-steady hand on the helm because that’s what dampens fear and creates a much-needed feeling of confidence.

  1. Earn people’s trust

The credibility a leader earns through staying calm must be reinforced by building trust.  What’s needed to overcome people’s fears is honest, candid communication – all the time.  Genuine compassion and empathy for the threats people are experiencing demonstrates that the leader really understands how they are feeling.  Earning and building trust is about authentic leadership, and authenticity, in the way the leader lives his or her core values, is quintessential in times of uncertainty.

  1. Be courageous

Turbulent times are when a leader’s courage is truly tested and tempered.  People want to know that the leader sees the threats and the risks but they must not see the leader’s fear – no matter how justified that fear is.  They expect the leader to make – and to act on – the tough decisions necessary for survival. The reality is that failure to act courageously seriously damages a leader’s effectiveness.

  1. It’s all about people

While the leader’s role is always to manage all the resources of the business for optimum productivity and profitability, without a doubt the resource that is most valuable and critical to manage is people.  This is never truer than in extremely challenging times like now.  Leaders need to be considerate, thoughtful and flexible.  They must balance the needs of the business with their responsibility for the safety and the wellbeing of their people. If leaders don’t manage the precious resource that is their people, it really doesn’t matter how well they manage all the other resources in the business.

  1. Never lose sight of your vision

Through all the trials and stresses of leading in difficult times, the leader is the one who can never lose sight of the vision.  Even when all the priorities are focused on survival, it’s important to hold on to what the purpose of the business is.  Survival should be seen as a stepping stone, not the endgame.  Leaders must resist the urge to ‘circle the wagons’ and simply hold on for dear life through the storm.  Instead, they need to look for smart innovations and initiatives that will equip the business to be ahead of the curve when the dark clouds eventually clear away.

Business history shows that, over the last few decades, most of the companies that emerged from difficult times stronger and better equipped to succeed, had one thing in common: leadership that put these five principles into practice during severely challenging times.  They are a roadmap to achieve not just survival through the crisis but long-term prosperity beyond it.

And isn’t long term prosperity the ultimate measure of truly effective leadership?


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