Forget Sink or Swim! 4 Ways to Help Your Team Thrive

    photo_27017_20130813Budget cuts and hiring freezes. Regulatory headaches, stalled initiatives, or the loss of a well-loved leader.

    Sound familiar? If so, rest assured, you are not alone. In over a decade’s work with top executives, I’ve yet to meet a leader who hasn’t been dealt any number of setbacks and challenges.

    Challenges that make leading difficult. Challenges that strain even high performing teams and put an executive’s skills, resourcefulness and adaptability to the test.

    Of course, if you’re like my most successful clients, you aren’t easily intimidated. You embrace any opportunity to step up your game — and you are ready and willing to help your team excel, no matter the obstacle or diversion. This is what energizes you. You are a leader — and this is precisely why you’re here.

    Yet even the very best of leaders can become distracted by the fire of the day and inadvertently neglect their teams. Worse yet, they can “turn off” their leadership efforts, assuming the team must sink or swim. But tough times are when the team needs you most. Here are four ways to keep performance, engagement and spirits high in the face of adversity.

    Use the upheaval to build bonds. There’s nothing so powerful as a crisis or the threat of looming danger to create lifelong war buddies. In difficult times, teams can develop stronger relationships by demonstrating their commitment and loyalty to one another. A great leader will help his team work together rather than at odds with one another. She will insist on communication, collaboration and mutual support. She will have zero tolerance for infighting or unproductive competition among team members.

    Revisit your vision. “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?” (Steve Jobs to John Scully, enticing him to step away from a successful career at PepsiCo in order to join a struggling Apple in 1984.)

    Jobs was known for his vision and his passionate and compelling language. He instilled a sense of purpose that others simply could not resist.

    When you convey an extraordinary vision for your team, you provide the inspiration and energy needed to ride the waves of short-term setbacks in pursuit of a greater goal. Does your vision do that? If the answer is no, it’s time to step back, reflect and reformulate your vision — and ensure everyone gets on board.

    Don’t let change take you by surprise. Even when it’s unclear what’s coming down the pike, savvy leaders anticipate when significant change is on the way. They acknowledge it and they work with their teams to prepare for any number of possibilities.

    When leaders ignore, deny or sugar coat what’s coming, they lose the trust and confidence of their teams. So keep your eyes open, scan the environment, make educated predictions and keep your team in the loop. Convey your unshakable confidence that no matter what the future brings, you will successfully navigate the path together.

    Get in front of your people. There’s no getting around it. Regardless of how busy or stretched for time you may be, you must remain visible and available to your team. When you are out of sight and out of touch, you lose visibility into how your people are coping. You don’t have a clear line of sight into the mounting anxiety, overwhelm or stress. And you aren’t there to field the questions, concerns or misunderstandings that invariably arise in difficult times.

    So be present for your team. Make them your top priority. Learn from them, share information quickly and honestly, and help your people feel emboldened by your confidence and unwavering leadership.

    If you lose sight of the foundations of leadership, your team will pay the price.

    Do what the best leaders do. Support your team. Be visible, accessible and approachable. Help the team anticipate what’s to come and communicate your vision with candor, clarity, confidence and purpose. You and your team will emerge stronger, more trusting, better performing—and remarkably well-prepared for whatever the future may bring.