Three strategies to help you lead in difficult times

Are you running a business or organisation that’s struggling? Read three strategies to help you be a strong leader in difficult times.

When times are good and orders are flowing in, managing a business is relatively easy. It feels like you have an abundance of resources, motivation, satisfied customers, happy employees and growth opportunities.

But what about when times get tough? When sales are sluggish and the pressure is on?


At times like these your company needs a strong, wise leader more than ever. But you may find your enthusiasm and positivity in short supply – and as a result, hard to motivate and reassure the people who work for you.

Three strategies to help you lead in difficult times

To help you manage this situation positively – keeping your company afloat, finding new opportunities and making sure your staff stay loyal and happy – here are three strategies you can adopt.

1) Look for new opportunities

It may seem like an impossible feat to find new opportunities in tough economic times, but history is littered with tales of prominent leaders who guided their companies to greater success in crises.

Indeed, many famous businesses (including Disney, Apple and IBM) were started in tough financial times. And for a story more close to home, read how former recruitment consultant Samantha Check launched her tea party venue after being made redundant in a recession.

So how do you turn a difficult situation around? First, review your strategy. Does it still work in the current climate? And if not, what needs to change? This could be the ideal opportunity to create a leaner, more agile business model.

Next look at your offerings – the products and services you sell. If there’s less business to go around, you need to make sure what you are selling is more attractive than the competition.

Is there any way to give yourself a competitive advantage? Can you lower your prices, improve your delivery service or times, or add value or quality to what you sell or how you package it? Sometimes brilliant customer service or a more creative brand can be all you need to give you an edge.

Also consider your relationships. Make sure your employees feel both valued and secure in their roles. They’re one of your business’ biggest assets and you can’t afford to replace them now.

The same goes for your suppliers and any retail or other business partners you may have. Ensure they too retain confidence in your business, and if you can, negotiate better deals. And don’t forget to continue networking to grow your contact list and potential customers.

And finally, if you haven’t already done so, examine all your monthly business outgoings. Are they ALL necessary? Or are there any you can cut or put on hold temporarily? And can you renegotiate any contracts for a more favourable deal?

2) Make difficult decisions

There will inevitably come a time as a leader when you’ll need to make difficult, unpopular decisions. And that time is now. Here are some things you may want to look at.

  • Get rid of ineffective employees – now is not the time to be carrying dead weight. So if there are any employees who consistently aren’t performing, you need to let them go. But act swiftly and decisively; you don’t want other employees wondering who is going to be next. Once the cull is over, reassure your team that their roles are safe.
  • Reduce wages for yourself and your employees – this is obviously a last resort, but if you can’t afford to maintain your existing salary bill but need everyone, ask if they will take a cut (and let them know you are doing so too). To sweeten the medicine you could promise bonuses or other rewards once you are through this tough patch.
  • Invest time in learning leadership skills – are there any skills that would help you through this time? If so, invest in training. And devour any useful books and even biographies of business leaders who have managed companies through similar difficulties for inspiration.
  • Be creative in recruitment and retention of employees – if you need to attract and retain people but can’t afford to pay the industry standard, look for other ways you can offer value. Many people value flexibility over a high salary, and a great work environment will give you valuable brownie points. (Read tips on how to make your company a brilliant place to work here.)
  • Treat people with dignity – whether you’re laying someone off, or explaining to your team why you need to make cut backs, treat them with dignity and be as honest as you can. Don’t let rumours fester, and try to make a tough time as bearable as possible for the people who look up to you as a leader. Their livelihoods are in your hands.
  • Promote good relations at work – its easy for work relationships to sour in hard times. Everyone is feeling the pinch, and many will worry about job security, and whether they’ll still be able to pay their own bills. So do all you can to ease stress and help prevent any fallouts in your team.

3) Stay positive

People still need to believe in something, and as a leader its up to you to keep the mood up in your team. Here are some suggestions to help you:

  • Expect the best (and reward it) – it feels great to excel in your job, and even better when this is noticed and rewarded. So let your team know you believe in their abilities, and highlight and reward exceptional work. This will encourage more of the same, something your business needs even more right now!
  • Keep in touch with your team – you need to be present now more than ever, so don’t hide away in your office. Show them you’re working just as hard as they are and that you have your finger firmly on your business’ pulse. And if they have any worries or questions, let them know you’re happy to talk (this is a great way to stop rumours festering).
  • Be a visionary – passionate people rule the economy. Sometimes all that gets a leader through a difficult time is belief they can. You’ll be more resourceful, resilient, agile and have more energy if you believe in yourself and your company. And your enthusiasm and belief will be infectious. So leave any doubts at home and arrive at work every day with a smile on your face and a spring in your stride.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself!

Carrying a business (and your responsibility as an employer) through difficult times is a significant burden. So make sure you take care of yourself, too.

Eat well and get plenty of sleep (if you’re struggling to sleep well, read this advice). Avoid the temptation to drink away your stress with wine (read five healthier ways to cope with stress) and don’t give yourself a hard time if you sometimes make a mistake or if, despite your best efforts, you don’t get the results you want.

Lucy Adams is an outsourcer from best essay. She’s a generalist who never refuses to cover exciting topics.