Managing in Difficult Times
Updated: Apr 14
Contributed by: Head of School, Chettinad Sarvalokaa Education International School
Tough times separate great leaders from the rest. What do leaders do to manage effectively in difficult times? It's as much about what they do to prepare, as it is about how they react.
Author Stephen Covey famously said, "We must seek first to understand, then to be understood." Once you truly understand your audience, your employees, your team, you can best be positioned to be understood. To activate your team through difficulties you have to first see reality from your team's point of view. Can you see what needs to be done from your employees' perspective? Do you understand all the forces at play? Do you have the courage to act to make things better? When it comes to seeing what needs to be done, author Jim Gilmore considers the power of observation as a neglected art. He describes successful observation using six metaphors. Binoculars are for surveying and scanning. Bifocals show contrasting views. Magnifying glasses allow you to pinpoint the main thing. Microscopes help you scrutinize the details. To see what could be, it's rose-colored glasses. Finally, a blindfold, which allows you to recall all you have seen with your mind's eye. Ask yourself, which of these tools do you need to better utilize in your day-to-day interactions with employees? Maybe you're great at understanding contrasting views, but you could be more positive and try on your rose-colored glasses to imagine what could be. Next, it's important you understand all of the forces at play.
A well managed breakdown can be just what's needed for a breakthrough. No one but you is going to reduce your stress. If the organization is going to change, the teams have to change. That means you have to be willing to change and take on more responsibility. Here are a few ground rules you can set to help your team take personal responsibility for the new norm. Stay positive. It's very easy to condemn, criticize, and complain. That's what I call the three Cs. When we do, we're playing a victim role, which can also be viewed as a villain. Then we go looking for a hero to come in and save us. The alternative is to stay positive. You'll see it as a contagion for good. Control the controllable. There is a circle of concern, influence, and control. Don't be distracted by the circle of concern. Sacrifice. Change is about getting rid of old habits and creating new ones. That means you're going to have to stop doing some things that may be comfortable and start doing things that aren't so comfortable. Think about the tasks that only you can do and that you must do now. Focus on those and make a concerted effort to eliminate or delegate the fewer essentials. Slow down. On expeditions, we have a mantra. You want to go fast, go alone. If we want to go far, we go together. It's about taking a step back and slowing down to ensure the direction is right so you can actually speed up. Create contingencies. It’s always good to plan the things that could go wrong.
When the going gets tough, the tough need the head, heart, and spirit of the team. Difficult times are difficult because we perceive a loss of control. During uncertainty, employees may choose to explore other job opportunities, or you, as the leader, may think about downsizing as a first option to rest control from the situation. When either of these things happen, they have a negative effect on morale, innovation, and competitiveness.
I suggest trying the TREE acronym. It's a great tool to help you remember to align expectations and commitment to shared goals. T stands for team, the team comes first. This is all about us before me. Selflessness is valued above self-interest. R is for results, you have to perform and hit your numbers. When you put numbers on the board, you earn influence. E for empathy, you need to have empathy for every teammate, no matter their role or title. Seek first to understand from their point of view. E, easier, not harder, the team's goal is to collectively make everyone's job easier. The acts that create this tree also represent the organisation. The roots are the core values, the branches are the teams, and the leaves are individuals.
You can be a leader, a manager, or you can be a change agent. Managers do things right, leaders do the right things, but a change agent transforms the organization to meet current and future marketplace demands. Think of a change agent as a catalyst who helps propel his or her organization forward through the transformation of processes, structure, incentives, and most importantly, interpersonal interactions with people.