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Leading Through the Impossible

Leadership is easy when things go well, but not when things are a mess. Here are 6 tips for leading through challenging times.

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As my grandmother would say, "Oy, what a mess!" Now that the government shutdown has started and the threat of default is imminent, it's just going to be ugly for a while. There's no way around it. Regardless of how we got here or whose fault it is, it will be a big challenge to lead the country through the coming months of bullying, brinksmanship and financial fallout. And yet, that's exactly what the president and congressional leadership will have to do. Choices will have to be made, and eventually compromises will have to happen on one side or another.

As a leader, you may someday find yourself in a similarly unpopular position that you must resolve. Somehow you must figure out to satisfy (as best you can) the markets, customers, unions, investors and employees who may be irrevocably at odds. Are you ready?

One thing you can't do is run away and hide. When things get tough, the essence of leadership is to get out in front and lead, not be a coward with no backbone. No matter how unpopular your point of view, express it with resolve so you can be heard loud and strong. It may turn out you were wrong, and if that becomes clear, you can and should concede. Then strongly stand up and admit your shortcomings. That, too, is true leadership.

Here are additional thoughts on leading through difficult times from my fellow Inc. columnists:

1. Don't Go It Alone

From my own first-hand experience, I recommend that every C-level person in a small company, especially if they are the CEO or founder, participate in a group like Vistage or Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO). Both can serve as a private "board of advisors" to give you perspective, and they purposefully focus on the "whole" entrepreneur, not just your business. Your fellow members will point out ideas or solutions that you may not have considered because you are so close to the problem at hand. They provide accountability to move you through the hard decisions and, most importantly, they serve as a support system to help you get through the rough spots. I credit my Vistage group as the catalyst for understanding it was time to move on from my last company. Eric Holtzclaw--Lean Forward

Want to read more from Eric? Click here.

2. Focus on the Long Term

The best way to get through a difficult time as a leader is to keep your eye on long-term goals. If you need to make budget cuts and your ultimate goal is to grow your business, you might choose reductions that least affect your customers. A different long-term goal might lead to a different choice. By the way, that's exactly what's happening in Washington: both parties have long-term goals to make gains in the next elections, so they each have a real interest in making the other side fall on its face. This makes perfect sense from their point of view, though not for the rest of the nation. Minda Zetlin--Start Me Up

Want to read more from Minda? Click here.

3. Act With Confidence

I've worked with entrepreneurs who fail to implement necessary changes, and the outcome is often devastating. I've also worked with those who announce news of change in a very negative, sometimes apologetic, manner. This can also be detrimental to the company's future. Be confident in your decisions and embrace the belief that there is a positive outcome available to those who are flexible and willing to think big. While compassion is critical, make sure to view yourself as a change advocate instead of the bearer of bad news. Your beliefs and attitude are what define either hope or failure for all involved. Marla Tabaka--The Successful Soloist

Want to read more from Marla? Click here.

4. Be an Open Listener

Listening is the key to leading through rough terrain. Make sure everyone feels heard--not just pacified. Survey and trust your senior management team; they likely see things within the organization that you don't see. Then, no matter what the decision is, be decisive and communicate your reasoning. When the Supreme Court issues a decision, they write an opinion. Whether or not you agree with that opinion, it's based on hearing loads of evidence and testimony. As a leader, it's important to do the same thing. Ultimately, the company looks to you to lead, so do just that and you'll be fine, for better or worse. Carrie Kerpen--Social Skills

Want to read more from Carrie? Click here.

5. Don't Give Up

When you're leading your organization through what appears to be an impossible situation, remember two things. First, nothing is impossible. No matter how difficult the path to success may be, there is a path. You've just got to be persistent enough to find it. Don't give up before you reach your goal. Second, use your company's values as your North Star. When you have strong values, they will light the way to your destination. Don't stray off the path and don't get caught up in the weeds. Be firm in your convictions, set a course, and then lead. Peter Economy--The Management Guy

Want to read more from Peter? Click here.

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IMAGE: Shutterstock
Last updated: Oct 2, 2013

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An Inc. 500 entrepreneur with a more than $1 billion sales and marketing track record, KEVIN DAUM is the best-selling author of Video Marketing for Dummies and the executive producer of Amilya! on 77WABC New York.
@awesomeroar




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