Leaders are always being watched. They choose that position when they step up. It's one thing to be watched when everything is going well. It's another thing to be watched in times of conflict.
The most effective leaders learn to demonstrate grace under pressure. Here are the 6 circumstances that can challenge even the most experienced, emotionally balanced leader.
- A key employee resigns.
In my work with dozens of CEOs, few things unnerve a leader faster than receiving a resignation from a pivotal team member. I've helped numerous clients navigate sudden departures. Here are the steps to communicate confidence to your employees, and continue with minimal disruption.
- Notify your HR and legal team of the resignation.
- Direct HR/legal to remind them of their non-compete, NDA, and non-solicitation agreements.
- Create a transition plan to shift responsibilities to other team members.
- Expect that you may be required to personally reach out to any clients.
- Compartmentalize your personal emotions from what you need to do for your organization.
- Consult with your HR/legal team on the appropriate communication to share with your organization, and move on it quickly.
- Ensure your standard exiting procedures are followed (IT access, building access, exit interviews)
Remember that your employees will follow your lead. If you demonstrate confidence and resilience, they will have less anxiety around the departure. If you demonstrate a "sky-is-falling" mentality, they'll panic. You alone set the tone.
- You're terminating someone.
Firing someone, whether for cause or due to layoffs, is always stressful. Employees always watch how you treat employees that are no longer a good fit for your company.
Poorly handled terminations invite lawsuits from disgruntled employees, as well as public humiliation through social media. To avoid a disaster, companies must follow procedures before, during and after the termination.
When handled professionally and compliantly, a termination can still lead to cordial relationship once the former employee lands another job.
- You've lost a big contract or customer, or didn't win a big contract.
Losing a big contract, or failing to win a contract in which employees gave everything they had to win, can crush company morale. Of course your employees will be upset, and will also expect you to be upset. However, they will also look to you to answer "what's next."
Your ability to embrace the new reality - life without that contract - and pivot to a new strategy that reflects a different plan to generate business will be essential in keeping your employees engaged and excited about work.
You must demonstrate you believe in the growth of the company, even in the most difficult of times. What you can conceive, you can believe. What you can believe, you can achieve.
- You've won a big contract.
Winning a game-changing contract is always exciting. They can literally alter the landscape of a company overnight. When the award comes in, employees will look to the CEO for direction on how the company will fulfill the work. They'll also be watching how the CEO acknowledges the people in the organization that contributed to the win.
All wins represent a collective effort of multiple company functions. How does the corporate culture honor the hard work of its employees? The three scientifically proven drivers of employee engagement are to feel safe, to feel we belong, and to feel we matter. Nothing disengages an employee faster than a lack of appreciation.
- You're welcoming a new employee.
Leaders must not underestimate the importance of the first-day impression. This will set the tone for how the new employee feels about the company, and how they fit into the bigger picture. Be sure to prep their workspace, assign a buddy or mentor, and check in often to see if they have any questions. While many tasks will fall to the HR team, CEOs should personally reach out to welcome all new hires.
- You've made a mistake.
You've messed up. You've said something you shouldn't have said. You failed to deliver. You acted inappropriately in public. You've offended an employee, customer, partner, or shareholder. You've hired the wrong person, held on to the wrong person, or fired the wrong person. You're human.
Employees don't expect perfection, but they do expect accountability and ownership. Following your mistakes, do you own up to them? Do you blame others? Do you look for opportunities to learn from your mistakes, and teach others what you've learned? Your reaction to your errors will be scrutinized privately and publicly.
Leadership is complex and difficult. However, with self-awareness in our most challenging times, we are given the opportunity to inspire others with our resilience, focus, and strength.