If you’re in any kind of organizational leadership role, your ability to adapt to change is essential in today’s world. Circumstances go back and forth between good and bad times at breakneck speed.
We all know that tough times call for great leadership, but did you know that the truly effective leader knows how to manage the good times, too?
Let’s look at some habits of Great Leaders in business and other fields that help everyone Thrive — and not Just Survive — through good times and bad.
Great Leaders Know How to Cope with Good Times
What do you mean “cope?” Good times are supposed to be easy, right?
Alabama football coach Nick Saban, who has won five national championships in his career, has a different observation. He has discovered that it’s more challenging to motivate his athletes to play their best after they’ve won a title:
“It’s human nature to survive, to be average and do what you have to do to get by…When you have something good happen, it’s the special people that can stay focused and keep…working to get better and not being satisfied with what they have accomplished.”
That’s right. Even if you’re the best athlete, sales rep, accountant, or whatever it is you do — all too often success breeds complacency. It kills the hunger that fed your initial drive to achieve.
#1: Great Leaders Challenge Everyone to Keep Getting Better
You’ve got to challenge every member of your team to keep improving. Everyone feels more invigorated when they’re consistently reaching new levels of success, and you’ll notice more positive energy throughout the organization.
Misty Copeland, Principal Female Dancer with the American Ballet Theater, tells us she’s “always working to improve. It’s not about what you’ve done. There’s always room to grow.”
Copeland understands that it takes just as much hard work to maintain her success as it did to reach the pinnacle of her field in the first place.
By the way, it’s not enough to push your team to keep reaching for excellence. If you’re a Great Leader, you’ll practice what you preach by investing in your own room for improvement!
How has your industry changed since you first started? What new skills do you need to build on your accomplishments? Reach out to experts on your team, sign up for a few classes, or get some helpful books — any resources that will improve your own performance.
#2: Great Leaders Don’t Just Focus on the “Star Players”
Remember, the Great Leader doesn’t play favorites by becoming close friends with a few top performers while ignoring everybody else.
After all, it’s the employee who may be struggling a little bit who could give you the greatest return by investing in a little guidance! And that can help make the good times even better.
Effective leaders know how to bring out the best in each individual team member. Your people will appreciate that you care enough to help, they’ll be happier at work, and you’ll notice a measurable improvement in their performance.
#3: Great Leaders Invest in the Future
Former Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher always pushed his team to have a positive attitude toward innovation. To encourage original thinking throughout the airline, he proactively sought ideas from everyone — “from flight attendants to top-level executives.”
Kelleher also understood that good times are the best opportunity to prepare for the bad times. He always planned for “at least two crises every decade, and we’d better be ready for them…We manage in good times so that we’ll do well in bad times.”
Too many people let success blind them to looming risks on the horizon. But Great Leaders anticipate the problems that could arise and develop a strategy for each one. It’s sort of like knowing where all the fire exits are in your building — you hope you never have to use them, but if you’re prepared it could save your life.
Great Leaders Know How to Navigate Bad Times
Walt Disney, who went from struggling artist to founder of one of the world’s most powerful media companies, had some thoughts about tough times:
“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”
So how do Great Leaders respond to adversity?
#1: Great Leaders Communicate and Empathize
An article published a few years ago by the American Management Association tells the story of two CEOs who both had the difficult task of announcing layoffs.
CEO A was booed off the stage, while CEO B was applauded and stayed afterwards to answer questions. Why the different responses? The article explains that it all comes down to relationships and communication.
Heed the words of President Theodore Roosevelt:
“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Great Leaders show they care by proactively explaining why tough decisions were made, and empathizing with what team members are going through.
If you’re the CEO, you get credit when things go right, but you also get the blame for lost jobs, lower wages, and declining 401K plans. So don’t take it personally if people get mad. Instead, have a little compassion and offer support to anyone negatively affected by your decisions.
And always maintain your physical presence among employees. Remember Leadership by Walking Around? Spend time talking to folks in every department. Your presence shows unequivocally that you care.
#2: Great Leaders Enlist the Team
Let’s say you’re anticipating some rough sailing ahead. Don’t wait until announcement time to engage your team. Get them involved in the decision process as early and as much as possible.
Invite departmental representatives to scrutinize their own areas of responsibility to identify appropriate options for addressing problems. Especially if unpleasant decisions have to be made, people will feel better if they know you took their perspective into consideration.
#3: Finally, Great Leaders Recognize Opportunity Where Others Only See Problems
The Chinese character for “crisis” includes two symbols:
- The first symbol means “danger.”
- The second means “opportunity.”
That’s right. Whenever your organization faces any kind of crisis, always look for the opportunity embedded within.
Sometimes it takes a challenge to force us out of our comfort zones and throw conventional wisdom out the window.
What headwinds are affecting your organization? Economic trends? Demographic shifts? Geopolitical crises? Changing consumer preferences?
While everyone else panics, the effective leader calmly assesses the facts and makes calculated decisions.
For example, most of your competitors will pull back on promotion when times get tough, but Great Leaders often invest in more marketing, not less. Additionally, this is an excellent time to access personnel. When times get tough unfortunately layoffs happen. Effective leaders make sure cuts occur across all levels, not just those with the least seniority.
One of the toughest aspects of being a Great Leader is navigating the dynamic and uncertain environment we’re operating in today. If you’ll practice these important leadership skills for responding to good and bad times, you’ll help your organization and your people to Thrive and not Just Survive!