Leading during turbulent times

Tap into your empathetic side and embrace honesty and optimism when leading your employees through uncertain times.

We live in unprecedented times. Due to an invisible enemy, fear and fatigue surround businesses, communities, individuals and families. Casualties multiply. Impatience and anger unexpectedly erupt. At the same time, heroes have stepped up in big ways. There have been acts of great sacrifice and generosity, and creativity has flourished as we’ve found new ways to connect, serve and work.

Turbulent times offer unique invitations for leaders to shine. Without WWII, Winston Churchill would little be remembered. Because of his decisive and inspiring leadership, Britain persevered through the war’s darkest days and Churchill is still greatly admired.

What you do as a leader matters now more than ever. Here are five tips for leading well during difficult times:


1. Lead.

Despite how you are feeling and what’s going on around you, if you haven’t already done so, your team needs you to step up. You don’t have to have all the answers, but you must lead the conversation. Ask questions. Get input. Then, make the best decisions you possibly can. As you lead by your words, actions and example, your team will step up to the plate and join you in the fight.

2. Lead with honesty and vision.

Trust is the cornerstone of great leadership. Rather than shielding employees from what’s happening or offering misleading statements, directly communicate what is going on. If your business is struggling, be honest. Then, lay out your vision for facing this difficult time and coming out stronger together on the other side.

3. Lead by taking care of yourself and asking your team to do so as well.


Burning the candle at both ends takes a toll on your body and jeopardizes your team’s well-being. It’s during difficult times you most need reserves. Take time to eat right, sleep, exercise, connect with loved ones and engage in activities that remind you that the world is greater than what you are currently facing. Just as your car needs gas to keep running, you need emotional and physical fuel for the battle you are facing. Your team will follow your lead, and it’s far easier to avoid burnout than to bounce back from it.

4. Lead with compassion for yourself and others.

Understand that many on your team are grieving, frightened, fatigued and even angry. Expect emotions to be closer to the surface than usual. At the same time, don’t give a free pass for bad behavior. While it’s OK to be frustrated, it’s no excuse to yell, belittle, intimidate or humiliate anyone. Express gratitude, offer encouragement and rally around teammates who are experiencing tough days.

5. Lead by looking for the positive and lessons learned.

While it may not feel like it, there is always a silver lining. If you don’t find yourself naturally looking for the positive, it’s time to begin training yourself to do so. Focusing on what’s wrong, bad or unfair is not only depressing, it also keeps you and your team stuck. On the other hand, looking for the positive and what’s been learned creates energy and positions you to move forward to face challenges head on.

Strong, honest, caring leadership is critical during this challenging time. Your team needs your leadership now more than ever. Your team needs hope and direction now more than ever. Your team needs to pull together now more than ever. If you, like Churchill, will guide and inspire your team through this difficult period, you can expect to come out of it victorious and with your head held high.

The author works with organizations who want to elevate their engagement, productivity and profitability. Learn more at sherenemchenry.com

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June 2020
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