Leading in tough times

28 Oct

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      LeadingToughTimes200x233When a team is up against it and defeat feels depressingly certain, it’s often the quality of leadership that dictates whether it sinks or swims.

      At some point, all leaders will be severely tested as they nurture a variety of personalities. To get the best out of your team when times are tough, it’s important to have strategies in place.

      I have these three suggestions to help you.

      1. Coach performance, not results

      When he managed Wigan Athletic, Roberto Martinez had a very limited budget at his disposal. Remarkably, they survived in the Premier League season after season and were finally relegated at the same time as being crowned FA Cup champions.

      During an interview with the BBC, Martinez gave some valuable insights into how to handle a team through adversity. He said: “Don’t torture yourself with the maths. The moment you’re trying to reach a specific points tally you’re going to be clouding your aim. The easiest way to approach it is with the mentality that you can get something out of every game and try to get as many points as you can.”

      Martinez goes on to explain that being ‘tortured by the maths’ stops the players’ enjoyment of playing. If they don’t enjoy it, their performances dip – making everything worse.

      The message is that getting bogged down in numbers and targets reduces the mental energy needed for lateral thinking. As a leader, it’s better to focus on coaching performance rather than results and help your team revel in small victories so they can celebrate amid the pressure and gloom.

      2Eliminate fear

      There are plenty of examples of fear being the catalyst for great innovation. But society has evolved rapidly over the last 20 years and what may have been true up until the 1980s is no longer valid in the working environment in 2013.

      Today, most people respond to fear in the workplace by switching into survival mode. When a person is frightened of their leader or of losing their job, they focus on themselves, hide mistakes, keep quiet and operate within narrow perimeters. All of this destroys creativity.

      In his book, Cross Cultural Servanthood, Duane Elmer describes openness as ‘the ability to make others feel safe in your presence’. Ask yourself: Does your leadership style make this possible?

      When times are tough, you need composure, self awareness and compassion to keep your team moving forward. And yes, you can have composure and passion at the same time.

      3. Respond to setbacks with inspiration

      Your team’s ability to bounce back depends heavily on your response as their leader. Whether you’re talking to each member individually or addressing everyone as a group, consider doing the following:

      Express your negative feelings using temporary language, with phrases such as:

      • “I’m really disappointed at the moment.
      • “This went badly today.
      • “We’re up against it right now.

      Confirm your belief in your team with permanent language, with phrases such as:

      • “I’m really disappointed at the moment because I know you’re better than this.
      • “This went badly today and you simply didn’t show how good you are.
      • “We’re up against it right now, but I have no doubt that with the quality we have in this team, we’ll pull through.

      Minimise the blame factor and focus on learning. For example:

      • “I’m really disappointed at the moment because I know you’re better than this. How are we going to make sure this doesn’t happen again?
      • “This went badly today and you simply didn’t show how good you are. What can I do to help you so that next time, we’re better prepared“?
      • “We’re up against it right now, but I have no doubt that with the quality we have in this team, we’ll pull through. Let’s look at how we’re going to move forward.”

      Written by Andrew Pain

      Andrew is the author of ‘CLOCKWISE – 5 great time management principles’. He works extensively as an accredited coach and business trainer with large blue-chip clients, public sector organisations, small to mid-sized businesses and unemployed young people.

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