Leading Through Adversity
By: Randy Wolken, President & CEO

Leaders are most tested when leading their teams and organizations through adversity.  Time and time again I get to see leadership greatness when leaders are confronted with difficult times.  It is then that leaders and their teams get truly tested.

What do I see during these times?  I see leaders who are hopeful, realistic, energetic, and humble.  Let me address these qualities in reverse order.  Leaders who are successful in adversity are first of all humble.  They have to admit to themselves and others that what had worked before – when they were successful – is no longer working.  This it tough to do.  It requires of level of humility — and quiet confidence – that is often hard to come by.  However, without the courage and humility to acknowledge the situation, admit the need for a change in direction, and the ability to genuinely ask for help – the organization cannot make the changes necessary to thrive again.  It is much easier to work harder and hope the situation “improves.”  But, this approach rarely works.  In adversity, a leader must humbly admit the need to change.

Another necessary quality is for leaders to be energetic. Change is hard and the leader must lead the way in changing themselves first.  Adversity usually requires more time and effort on the part of the leader.  Being enthusiastic and full of energy sets the stage for the entire team to do likewise.  This can be exhausting for the leader.  But, there is no other way to go about change but in a vigorous and committed way.  In times of adversity, energetically give all you have to the effort.

The next needed quality is to be realistic.  Current challenges require a level-headedness on the behalf of the leader and the team.  What needs to be done?  When does it need to be done?  How much do we need to change?  What resources are available?  These questions and many more must be answered by the leader and the team in order to craft a successful change strategy.  A change effort must be realistic – and the leader must work hard to ensure it stays that way until success is achieved.

Finally, the leader must bring a true sense of hope to the entire effort.  When a leader is humble, energetic and realistic, the team will trust the leader.  Then, the leader needs to communicate a sense of hope that carries team members through the difficult times encountered.  It is this hope that allows those who must commit to long hours and challenging activities a belief that it will be worth the effort.  As is often said, “without hope – the people perish.”

All of us need leaders who inspire and lead us in times of adversity.  In my experience, they are hopeful, energetic, realistic, and humble.  These essential qualities need to be rooted in all leaders – in good and bad times.  Great team members also exhibit these very same qualities.  It is important to ask ourselves if we demonstrate these qualities.  If not, what can we do to cultivate them?  An important question to ask in our complex, fast-moving world where adversity for us, our teams, and our organizations is just around the corner.  Preparing ahead of time is best for all.