opinions expressed by entrepreneur Contributors are their own.
People are fighting right now. With inflation rates hitting a 40-year high, nearly half of Americans are struggling to make ends meet. Many are still adjusting after Covid-19 turned life as we knew it upside down, and the world seems to be getting more caught up in social and geopolitical unrest every day.
We live in uncertain times with an even more uncertain future, and both employees and managers can feel their legs shaking under the weight of it all.
Times of change and uncertainty fundamentally blur our vision of the future, and it can be difficult to see even a few feet ahead. At times like this, it’s up to leaders to face the challenges of our current context, break through the cacophony of the outside world, and inspire their teams to work towards the mission at hand.
See also: The 3Cs of running a business in uncertain times
Avoid leadership traps
Leadership on a good day, in a good year, is challenging enough. The context we live in makes it even more difficult for leaders to realize their vision and empower their people. An employee may leave unexpectedly due to challenges in their personal life, and you must endeavor to find a replacement. A key customer may stop using your service due to budget cuts, or you may have a bad quarter of earnings and see your inventory.
When faced with instability, it’s easy for leaders to lead from a place of fear rather than belief. The psychoanalyst Dr. Karen Horney outlined three coping strategies that many turn to during times of stress and pressure: Exercise approaching others, moving away from others and taking action against others.
The leader who moves toward people can become particularly docile, constantly seeking validation and validation from others. When the leader moves away from people, they become passive, avoiding conflict and hiding from social interaction. The leader who acts against humans resorts to hostility. They are controlling and easily triggered by anger, creating an unsafe workplace.
These coping mechanisms could lead people to lose trust in their boss, retire from work, or seek new employment altogether. Leaders must be vigilant about their own mental, physical, and spiritual health to avoid these pitfalls and turn a challenging time into a disastrous one.
See also: This ancient philosophy is key to leading through turbulent times
Work with the new normal, not against it
Once leaders ensure they are able to do this, it is time to address the needs of their employees. What we see as leaders is only a fraction of the everyday picture. Much of the work done in an organization is intangible, and with hybrid work, 80% of your team can be distributed, working virtually in five different time zones. In this context, how do we create a workplace that meets the needs of employees and allows them to stay focused, engaged and aligned?
It starts with assessing what our people really want and what our organization is lacking. Some may seek more interpersonal relationships, while others may need more solid childcare support. Half of your employees may be longing for a return to face-to-face work, while others thrive in the quiet of their home. Many are likely to have trouble staying emotionally grounded and trying to find more meaning in their everyday lives.
To meet the many conflicting needs of employees, leaders must work inside the new workplace context and not against it. Create an office community where employees feel safe, cared for and supported, whether by providing non-meeting Fridays or creating spaces for face-to-face meetings. Don’t try to bring everything back to “normal” – embrace what comes next and build a culture that enables employees to thrive even in times of change and pain.
Related: 4 things to consider when running a business in downtime
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel
While we must embrace the “new normal,” that doesn’t mean we have to completely reinvent fundamental leadership tactics. Many qualities of great leaders that have long been touted are still relevant and can be applied to the new contexts in which we work.
If, like me, you need a refresher after the whirlwind of the past few years, here are five key leadership skills that can help you cut through the noise and maximize your leadership impact:
- Communicate your vision and convince employees to commit themselves to it.
- Inspire action – encourage your followers to do what previously seemed impossible.
- Think strategically and adapt to changing environments with agility and confidence.
- Practice emotional intelligence and work on understanding your emotions and those of those around you.
- Master human resources management – without our employees we have no business.
It can be easy to lose sight of the tactics that have served us well when our world has been turned upside down as thoroughly as it has in recent years. But leadership fundamentals are fundamental for a reason. By going back to basics and recommitting to applying them, we can strengthen our reserves and guide our people through the difficulties ahead with strength and grace.
Also see: 10 positive leadership books to motivate and inspire you during tough times
drive through the rain
At its core, leadership is the implementation of a clear and compelling vision by others. But what happens when that view is clouded by external factors – when we’re distracted by the baby crying in the back seat, or taking a long and winding detour due to ongoing construction work?
There’s no telling when the unrest of recent years will die down, and with a possible looming recession, we seem years away from breaking out of the woods into the sunny pastures. Leaders must learn to be resilient in times of change and pain, and in turn, make those who work for them more resilient. Don’t be afraid to steer your team through the rain—watching for potholes, listening to your passengers’ needs, and remembering all the homologation tips you did all those years ago will ensure a smoother ride imminent.