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Dec 18


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Toyin Wura Oke


Leading in Challenging Times

“The strongest oak tree of the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It's the one that stands in the open where it is compelled to struggle for its existence against the winds and rains and the scorching sun.” (Napoleon Hill)

A lot of people will invest in a crystal ball if it comes with a guarantee of foreseeing the future. With the situation currently facing us – falling oil prices, shifting market trends, increased competition, demanding stakeholders, economic crisis, security issues, layoffs, personal hardships, among others – most would just want to know when all these would end, or at least be under control. Increasingly people become concerned for their future; often they turn to their leaders for information, guidance, and direction. Leaders are then faced with the two-fold challenge. First, watching the bottom-line, and second, nurturing the individuals.

Photo: quietrevolution

Photo: quietrevolution

What, then, is a Leader to do?

Leaders are constantly called to provide direction even during tranquil times, but faced with adversity, there is a more urgent call to provide keener strategic focus for the organization. Challenging times magnify failure a hundred-fold, resulting in grave consequences, thus leaving less room for missteps. It is in this state that the dual leadership challenge is rightfully addressed.

It would be close to impossible to harness the synergy of the entire organization if it is unclear where the organization intends to go. With that in mind, the leader is tasked with crafting and championing the vision – the desired future state, and disseminating the same to each and every individual employed, or contracted, by the organization. The values of the organization – how the vision will be achieved – should also be strengthened.

Work with Dimensions

Another great help for leaders is to work with competency-based integrated human resource systems. For this purpose, competencies, or dimensions, are descriptions of clusters or grouping of behaviors, motivations, and knowledge related to job success or failure under which new data on motivation, knowledge/skills, and behaviors can be reliably classified. Competency-based systems provide a highly-effective way to measure and guide individual and group performance. The strength of implementing an integrated system during challenging times lies in having an objective and stable measure to anchor and guide performance.

Leadership Roles

The leader would do well to take on several roles – simultaneously or at different points in time. These roles range from being navigator to strategist to change driver to enterprise guardian, among others. Individuals comprising the organization look up to all these roles to lead them and their organization towards success. Most especially during times of adversity, there is a need for leaders to quickly and flawlessly shift from one role to another. Indubitably, many organizations with intractable and non-agile leaders have suffered bitter fate.

In today’s turbulent economy, leaders need to become more resilient at handling the extremely high demands of their jobs and the ever-changing business landscape. The following seven principles will help you sharpen your leadership skills so that you’ll be better equipped to handle any challenge that comes your way.

Clarify your Direction
Direction consists of where you want to end up, both personally and professionally. It provides purpose, energy and hope, along with a criterion for making decisions. Clear direction, personally and organizationally, provides the energy needed to overcome obstacles. Unfortunately, the stresses of work and life cause many people to lose sight of their direction.

To clarify your direction, imagine how you’d like your work and life to be five to ten years from now. What are you doing? Who is around you? Where are you? What do you feel proud of? Then do the same for your business.

Photo: cmdhorizon

Photo: cmdhorizon

Step into your Incompetence
One of the greatest challenges of leadership is that although a leader may want others to perceive him as some extraordinary leader who has all the answers, the reality is that leaders do not have the answers; rather, they are adept at finding the answers and then moving forward.  Finding the answers and stepping into your incompetence takes courage. A good way to push yourself to take the leap is to sign up for projects that will force you to stretch and learn new skills. Ask others on the project team to hold you accountable for your results. Use the experience to force yourself to grow.

The same concept holds true for the business itself. Look at avenues in which the company can expand. Are there risks the business needs to take? Can you enhance a current service or product? Is there a business growth issue you’ve been avoiding? Let your direction stretch your capabilities.

Revisit your Values
If you were to lose your title, your office and your car, who would you be? Some people feel empty when the external trappings are gone. They have engrossed themselves in their work for so long that they have forgotten what they stand for and what is really important to them.

Values, which can include things like integrity, financial stability, family, community involvement, meaningful work, innovation and personal development, play a key role in defining who you are. You need to clarify your values so you can stay true to yourself when you face difficult decisions. You must also examine how your behaviours support your values. After all, it is one thing to say you value honesty; it is another to take a stand in the midst of a business decision that would benefit you if you were dishonest. Only when your values and actions are aligned can your company grow and attain results that matter most.

Photo: hrdailyadvisor

Photo: hrdailyadvisor

Develop a Learning Mindset
How do you approach obstacles? Do you see them as burdens and inconveniences or as opportunities? This question is important because your mindset regarding challenges plays a big role in your future success.

"Oh no" leaders view everything as an attack on themselves. They spend their time protecting themselves and blaming others. "Oh well" leaders take the challenges in stride and do the needed work, but they overlook the long-term benefits of the experience. "Oh wow" leaders respond to the event with interest and learning rather than judgment and blame. They ask "why" and "how" questions in order to use the event as an opportunity to better themselves. These leaders are in the habit of asking themselves, "What can I learn from this experience?" Strive to be an "Oh wow" leader.

Maintain and Improve Relationships
Every leader is aware of the high costs of losing contact with his or her customers. But they may ignore some of the key relationships in their personal lives. Schedule time for friends and family, then take your relationship-building skills a step further by encouraging your staff to follow your lead. Encourage your team to maintain contact with customers, suppliers and partners. Make yourself accessible to your team to prove that you value relationships and are there to help.

Increase your Knowledge/Skills
Most importantly, develop your communications, problem-solving and resiliency skills. Useful training opportunities include how to lead change, how to delegate tasks and empower employees and how to communicate effectively. In addition, consider exploring an area of interest like pottery or music.

Encourage ongoing learning in the workplace. As your company adds or removes operational layers or departments, everyone will need to know how to change and develop new skills. Some learning only requires that you give team members the time to work together. Broader issues may require investing in training for a particular department or for the entire organization.

Take Action
Proactively making decisions and moving forward in spite of uncertainty requires courage. Clearly identify any issues you may be avoiding, confront them and then take action to overcome them. If you make a mistake, learn from it and carry on. Once you take the first step, you begin a learning cycle for yourself and your business that continues as you and your company grow.

Organizations do not change until leaders change. And, you can’t become a better leader if you are unwilling to face your doubts and weaknesses.


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A World Order in Coma?

Olusegun Awolowo, CEO Nigeria Export Promotion Council; Strategic Leadership in Challenging Times