by Jason Richmond, CEO and Chief Culture Officer at Ideal Outcomes, Inc.
If there was ever a time for strong leaders to steer us through uncharted waters, it’s now. From the wide-ranging repercussions of wars in Ukraine and elsewhere to the effects of climate change, recession, or even currency fluctuations, the news cycle brings us daily evidence of a world that’s out of kilter.
What does it take to be an effective leader in uncertain times? Here, we take a look at some of the top qualities that will make you stand out.
There’s something very powerful about keeping your head when people all around you’re losing theirs, and an ability to project a sense of calm in the middle of a crisis is one of the traits that makes for great leadership. The constancy and composure that Queen Elizabeth II displayed throughout the 70 years of her reign when the world around her was changing at an incredible rate were a large part of her enduring popularity.
While it’s easy to give in to stress when you’re under pressure, it has a knock-on effect on the rest of the team, leading to lower morale, mistakes, and a drop in performance. So, how do you keep calm and carry on? It’s important to create a strong team around you so that you’re prepared in the event of a crisis. And when the storm hits, resist the temptation to jump straight in and respond in the heat of the moment. Instead, take the time to assess the situation before acting.
While every leader needs a strong, clear vision, it’s crucial to be agile too. Circumstances change, and volatile conditions demand an adaptive approach. When the pressure is on, it’s easy to double down on old ideas and set ways of thinking, but flexibility sets the best leaders apart.
Effective leaders are continually cultivating a flexible mindset so that they’re always receptive to change and ready for the punches when they happen. Build a diverse team and create a space where people feel comfortable expressing different points of view. Keep an open mind and stay curious, seeking out opportunities for growth and learning to challenge old ways of thinking. Finally, accept that we all make mistakes – strong leaders learn from their failures and move on.
“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward.” – Nelson Mandela.
While it takes a whole company and the accumulation of everyday habits, communications, and behaviors to shape corporate culture, a leader can define the overall mood through their words and actions. A regular email sharing good news from the industry or within your organization might be all it takes to set the tone for the week ahead. When world events make it feel like everything has turned upside down, a strong leader communicating a positive, can-do message can fuel belief within the business and inspire teams to keep improving.
There is, of course, a difference between optimism and empty boosterism. There’s no point in sugar-coating a situation when the evidence shows you otherwise: canceled projects, reduced bonuses, a recruitment freeze. Amid uncertainty, people appreciate clarity and honesty over false cheer.
Napoleon is credited with saying that the role of a leader is to “define reality and give hope.” Instead of pretending that everything is fine when it clearly isn’t, standout leaders face difficult conversations. They’re transparent with their teams, laying out the challenges and sharing the steps that the company needs to take to overcome them. Trusting people with the facts and creating a clear roadmap is the first step toward giving hope.
“I need ammunition, not a ride.” – Volodymyr Zelensky.
Early on in the conflict in Ukraine, the U.S. offered to fly President Zelensky away to safety; instead, he stayed put to lead his country from the ground. When times are tough, hiding away in a corner office is tempting. But this is precisely when a leader should be visible. If employees feel confused or vulnerable, disappearing from view and canceling all-hands meetings only increases anxiety. On the contrary, walking the floor and engaging people in conversation sends a very powerful message, letting everybody know that you’re not going anywhere and are in this with them.
If everything around you feels uncertain, there’s something very powerful about finding strength in numbers and building friendships instead of stoking rivalries – both within and outside your company. Roger Federer is a great example of this. Generally acknowledged as the greatest tennis player of all time, he was also respected for his leadership within the sport and served as President of the Player Council from 2008-2014.
Federer was as graceful in defeat as in victory, credited his team as opposed to claiming all the glory for himself, and went out of his way to cooperate with his peers. When he was pictured holding hands with his great rival Rafael Nadal at the Laver Cup (an event he helped establish), both men in floods of tears as they celebrated his retirement from tennis, it was an inspirational example of collaborative leadership in action.
When the world feels topsy turvy, employees appreciate authenticity and empathy from their leaders above all else. Recent research has found that leader sincerity and empathy boost employee engagement, inclusion, and intent to stay, with employees more likely to view empathetic leaders as sincere.
Empathy is a quality that can be built through everyday behaviors and small interactions – simply remembering people’s names and taking the time to stop and chat is a good start. And while employees always value feeling listened to, it’s even more important in times of crisis, when concerns about the wider world or changing situations outside the workplace are added to the usual challenges of corporate life. Cultivating empathy and creating an authentic culture of listening and caring will help you stand out when it feels like the world has gone mad.
Fostering Standout Leadership in Your Company
A strong leader can set the tone for the whole organization. By keeping a cool head, adopting a flexible mindset, tempering optimism with reality, staying visible, cultivating alliances, and building empathy, company leaders can model behaviors that help to steady the ship and reassure employees, even in challenging circumstances.
When the world (and the workplace) are changing at breakneck speed, it takes a strong leader to inspire employees and raise morale within a company. At Ideal Outcomes, we help companies build healthy, inclusive corporate cultures that drive business performance, improving productivity and reducing employee turnover through consulting, training, and resources.
To find out how we can help you develop your leaders to foster a thriving company culture that can survive even the most difficult changes, contact us today.