Business Leadership in Difficult Times: Strategies That Work

2021.01.25 12:47 PM By Joshua Taddeo, Principal Consultant
business leader training team

Uncertainty is like the weather. It's always there - part of the atmosphere and a condition over which individuals and organizations have very little control. The severity of uncertainty, like the austerity of the weather, can rise and fall. That said, have you been wondering how best to provide leadership in the current difficult times? The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted businesses worldwide. Leaders everywhere are wondering how they'll navigate this nightmare that has created massive business challenges.

Sales and revenue are falling short. Companies are facing the prospect of downsizing. Your best employees might be struggling to work remotely full time; team cohesion fragmented due to social distancing — all of which can result in dampened work performance. Your company's morale might be at an all-time low, and it's your job as the leader to lift your staff's spirits and get things back on track.

Every business will encounter rough patches at some point, and business leaders must make tough decisions on how to improve their dilemma. During hard times your company will need leaders who can recognize and seize opportunities as soon as they appear. Excellent leadership capabilities don't necessarily have anything to do with titles. Still, it has everything to do with future-thinking professionals who are willing to proactively build up their business' resilience and buy into a culture of progressive action.

To lead effectively, you must remove any roadblocks by using strategic planning. Concrete strategies allow businesses to focus their energy better, establish priorities, and strengthen operations to achieve their targeted goals.

Leading Through Change

In business, the one constant is change. Unfortunately, people resist change because of total misunderstanding, the fear of losing something they value, believing that change is not beneficial, and low personal tolerance for change. Organizations that dominate their respective fields have leaders who lead through change better than anyone else. They also bring out the best in their people during times of extreme uncertainty. This trait pays enormous dividends, especially in lean times. By improving your business or operational processes, you will find ways to cut costs that do not hurt your company, and you will be enhancing value to your customers. Below are some critical strategies that work for most businesses.

leading through change

Accept that change is part of life 

Change is inevitable. It is guaranteed to happen in businesses as well as in other aspects of life. Since the pandemic hit, it's not an exaggeration to say that companies will never be the same again. That said, you'll need to ensure that it is the right move for your company.

Involve everyone

Whenever possible, you should engage your personnel in the change process. Doing so generates buy-in and helps to alleviate some of the more negative emotions surrounding this process.

Keep seeking change

If you wait for the business to fail, it will be too late. If you don't adapt to the numerous changes in your industry or external environment, you have given the competition a green flag to take over your market share and put you out of business.

Stay purpose-driven

When you're experiencing business challenges and have the necessary skills to lead through change, it is crucial to stay focused. As the leader, you're the lodestar for your employees. You might not know the exact way initially. The criticism may also be high, but if you direct all of your focus on staying purpose-driven and creating a culture high on purpose, the "how" will eventually present itself. An alternative is to consider strategy consulting from an external, professional, and credible source. An outsider offers unbiased, rational advice.

Encourage constant communication

Excellent communication is required to create great relationships. It is necessary for good organizational health and effective leadership. Leaders need to not only communicate from a technical standpoint continually but also inspire. The next time you encounter a challenging period, whether big or small, make it a priority to become a world-class communicator.

Invest in your people

The most valuable people are those you work with. They are the soldiers expected to carry out your vision and head into the trenches to ensure that your organization's transition is successful. No matter how small you think your company is, it's essential to remember to invest in your people as much as possible. You can do so by incorporating team-building exercises or bringing in different experts, among other helpful activities. Doing so will not only help you lead successfully through change, but you will also inspire loyalty amongst your employees.

Persist until you succeed

As a leader, it is fundamental to instill a culture of tenacity in your organization. Although it might seem intangible at first, your organization will reap from your labor eventually. Persistence is the backbone of the organizations that thrive entirely during times of extreme change. 

Leading Your Team Through Tough Times

It can be difficult to appreciate any small wins when everything seems to be falling apart. However, every company goes through rough patches and growing pains. During these times, a team needs a strong leader to help them weather the storm. Below are essential tools to help you survive such challenging times.

Communicate transparently

Communication – especially during a crisis – plays a massive role in how people respond and move forward. You might feel compelled to shield employees from what's going on with the business and not keep them informed. However, it's crucial to be as open, honest, and transparent as you can be. Nonetheless, it is paramount that you try to exude confidence and have a positive outlook on the situation.

Find the lessons to be learned

strategy planning with team

They say that a wise man learns from his mistakes. That said, it's vital to learn from your mistakes so you can handle similar situations better in the future. In analyzing and evaluating errors, it's important not to blame and create animosity among your team. You should also be open to getting suggestions and solutions from employees. Embrace such moments and consider them as business consultation meetings.

Share your vision for the future

Being transparent and communicative about how the team and company plan to move forward will help your employees weather any storm that the company may face. To truly understand your message, you'll probably need to regain its momentum, don't lose it. Work diligently to strengthen your leadership skills, and you'll eventually earn your team's trust for the next low point.

Celebrate all your wins

It is much easier to adopt a defeated mentality during difficult times. Unfortunately, this only results in low morale. With that in mind, it's crucial to celebrate all wins (large and small) to keep morale high. Doing so will play a vital part in reinforcing that you value your employees. To ensure that your company goals are achievable entirely on time, you'll need to break large goals into smaller, more attainable goals. Don't forget to keep track of every team member's progress. Whenever your team achieves a goal, e.g., successfully meeting a project deadline, or launching a new campaign, celebrate the win. Although it may not seem like much, reinvigorating your team with positivity will boost morale and improve performance. As a result, your organization will reap great rewards.

communicating with team

Ask for honest feedback

It can be tempting for business owners to fix everything and bear the burden when things aren't going as expected. When you're in a rough patch, ask for honest feedback from your employees. Listening to your employees' different perspectives allows you to look at the problem holistically. Doing so can result in a more vital team dynamic.

Creating New Opportunities

Leaders have an unprecedented opportunity to re-examine, redefine, and reimagine the nature of their team member’s work and everything in between. The COVID-19 pandemic has created unusually difficult times, and as we get back to work, things will be different. As a result, brilliant leadership is critical now as well as in the future. Leaders are creators of opportunity for others: they open doors. And when they do it right, there is positive energy in the air. People are excited to learn, to try new things, and to succeed in new ways.

Great leaders give hope, purpose, and meaning. Great leaders create a vision of what to expect in the future while motivating their followers to be part of it. These are times when the end is hard to predict, making an optimistic leader even more critical. Great leaders reinforce what they know - core competencies and company values - and reassure people that the organization will succeed. Influential leaders are forward-leaning and inspire people based on the power of a compelling future.

Leaders are clear about reality. They paint a clear picture of what's going on and inform people about the general business field, the competition, and what is necessary to accomplish results. Business resilience requires a firm understanding of what's going on in the market. Great leaders don't sugar-coat the truth and don't motivate people using fear. They strive to remain calm in the face of chaos. People can't do their best or make the right decisions if they don't have clarity. Influential leaders ensure their personnel is in the know. Creating opportunities has a lot to do with keeping your eyes open for new developments in the world and your industry. To become a successful leader, one should take the initiative and maintain a spirit of innovation. Strategic planning will facilitate the exploitation of new opportunities.

Creating a Strategic Objectives Plan

Strategic planning, also called strategy development, requires extreme attention to detail and should be performed by someone who can follow through on the company's progressive trajectory. Strategic plans are not static - they change as new circumstances arise, both internally and externally. Before embarking on the strategic planning process, it's essential to have a buy-in from the company management, the board of directors, and other stakeholders. Without it, the process cannot progress successfully.

The next thing is to gather your planning team. It's essential to include people from various department levels. Remember to foster an open, free discussion within the group during the planning process. Leaders need to get input from the group as a whole, but they don't necessarily need approval from everyone. Doing so will slow down the entire process. The planning architect is responsible for writing and putting together the final plan. However, they can and should work with a smaller group of writers to establish and standardize the writing tone and style as it will appear on the final document or presentation. It's often a great idea to hire an external party to facilitate the strategic planning process.


Strategic objectives are some of the fundamental building blocks of your strategic plan. The definition of strategic objective is simple - we can define it in quantifiable and measurable terms. It is a high-level statement that outlines what you want to achieve, with a clearly stated deadline. The primary advice when creating strategic objectives is to keep things simple. They should be memorable and easily understandable by everyone within the organization. That means no jargon. You can include extra details that are applicable to your organization, of course, but you should be able to sum up what you want to achieve quickly. A perfect structure follows as such: Action + Detail + Deadline. It is phrased in a way that answers two simple questions: How much and by when?

For an objective to be quantifiable, it must reflect an amount of something. Strategic and operational planning most often use time, money, percentages, and numerical counts to measure strategic goals. Don't be afraid to repeat tasks. You'll probably not get most things right the first time. However, you'll need to get your strategic objectives out on paper to appreciate where the gaps are. Involve your personnel as early as possible. Don't try to do everything yourself. Define your vision, values, and focus areas clearly. Once done, have a lengthy discussion with your team on how to achieve each goal.

The strategic management process helps you figure out how to move from point A to point B effectively and efficiently. Part of that journey is the strategy you choose, while the other part is execution. When implemented correctly, your strategic plan will engage and align stakeholders around your company's priorities. Although the strategic planning process takes time, the payoff is enormous.

Strategy Planning

Strategic planning is documenting and establishing a direction for your business. It entails assessing where your company stands and where it is going. It allows you to identify your mission, vision, and values. Let's not forget your long-term goals and the action plans required to reach them. A well-defined strategic plan can play a pivotal role in your business's growth and success. How so? Because it informs you on how best to respond to opportunities and challenges. There are numerous benefits of strategy consulting, most of which you shall appreciate within no time. This process involves analyzing your business holistically and having discussions that can lead to meaningful changes in your company.

Once again, don't forget to involve your employees in the strategic planning process. Your personnel is engaged in day-to-day operations and can provide you with a unique view of the company. Employees can share what they think is and isn't working with the business today, thus informing your company's plans. In addition to your employees, you can consider reaching out to people outside of your company to get their opinions. Like your employees, vendors have a unique perspective on your industry. If you want your business to survive the harsh climate, you must take strategic action immediately. Be bold and plan well, and your organization shall thrive.