Seven Ways to Lead During Challenging Times

It is easy to be a leader during good times – you just have to manage to not mess up anything and may be, things would go on well. However, challenging times are another story!

We discussed this topic during the October 2013 meeting of the “Chennai Leadership and Coaching” Meetup group that I organize. This blog post is a short summary of my thoughts on our discussion.

Photo by Anthea Brown shared via Flickr through a Creative Commons License

What could cause challenges for leaders?

Here are some reasons that could cause a challenging time for leaders like you and me:

  • Personal Issues
  • People Issues – within their team, with other teams, with their boss or peers etc.
  • Achieving or not achieving results
  • Environmental changes – in the industry, country and world, in general

While these are indeed challenges, there are ways to overcome or minimize these challenges to become a winning leader. So, here we go with the Seven Ways to Lead During Challenging Times!

Seven Ways to Lead During Challenging Times

1. Re-frame – Different words bring out different feelings and reactions within our brain. So, don’t think of your ‘Challenge’ as a ‘Problem’. When you frame it as a ‘Problem’, it evokes negative reactions that hinder solutions. Frame it as a ‘Challenge’ and it would be easier for you to march ahead and overcome it!

2. Slow Down – The usual instinct is to work harder and longer to get through a challenging time. However, hard work alone may not help you face challenges. Slowing down, reviewing what you are doing and thinking through the challenge would help you solve many issues faster than expected.

A leader that I work with uses the phrase “let’s sleep over this for a couple of days and then take a call” when faced with a challenge that seems insurmountable. Usually, within a couple of days, there is more clarity and the challenge begins to seem manageable!

3. Prepare – The best time to prepare for a challenging time is before we face the challenge. During good times, instead of being complacent, we should plan ahead and get knowledge, skills & experience that would help us lead during not so good times!

A good way to ensure that we prepare ourselves is to allocate ‘Quadrant Two Time‘ – time for planning, preparing, building relationships and innovating. These activities help us go outside our box and be ready for a future that is not so clear.

4. The Pareto Principle – Challenges may muddle up our minds. There may be too many things to do! Use the Pareto Principle – focus on 20% of the activities that can produce 80% of the results. Identify and work on these activities to achieve goals that would help you surmount challenges.

5. Long Term Vs Short Term – Leaders want to reach milestones quickly during challenging times and hence, may resort to short term thinking. While short term results are good and do bring temporary relief, it is important to remember that many organizations and individuals have ruined themselves by thinking only of the short term.

When you are taking decisions or planning, ask yourself “What would be the impact of my decision in three/ five / ten years?”. Asking this simple question, would lead you towards better decisions.

6. Get Help! – In today’s social and collaborative world, we are not alone. Others have had the same challenges that we are facing. You would be surprised to find all the help available, if you ask for it.

When I face challenges, I go to one or more of these helpful resources and people:

* My family, friends and mentors
* My team, peers and supervisors at work
* My extended network in Twitter, LinkedIn, Quora or Facebook (of late, Meetup is another network) and
* The Internet
* Books

These people and resources have helped me get through challenging situations. Hopefully, you have a similar network which you can tap into!

7. Assess and Evaluate – What cannot be measured, cannot be improved. Without knowing where you are and where you want to head, there is no way you can face challenges as a leader.

So, constantly measure where you are, move ahead in simple steps and celebrate small victories. Constant evaluation also stretches your mind and helps you reach goals that you once thought can never be achieved.


Challenges present themselves to leaders for a reason – challenges bring out the best in leaders. So, if you want to be a great leader, use these seven ways to face challenges and be a great leader!

Do you have additional thoughts to share? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!

11 thoughts on “Seven Ways to Lead During Challenging Times

  1. Hi.
    Very good thoughts.
    Thanks for LinkedIn facility.

    Nathan Acha
    Bacolod City, Philippines

  2. Good one…

    Point 2… Slowing down does make a lot of sense however I believe it would depend on the challenge… you can’t slow down when the challenge is that you are inundated and there is a deadline…

    1. Thank you, Suhas! And I agree with your observation on point two. It does depend on the type of challenge that one could be facing. However, in any type of challenge, I believe that we need to slow down (even if for a very short time) to take stock and plan.

  3. Dom thanks for sharing such an inspirational thoughts,
    It could be really helpful for Challenging Leaders!!!

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