Leadership for Hard Times

By Kathy Miller on July 8th, 2013

As leaders of our companies, all of us have our share of challenges these days. Lately I’ve been reflecting on what it takes to show strong leadership when times are tough. Over the past few months I have observed closely leaders who are effective and those who aren’t. I believe that the differentiating factor is leadership presence. This somewhat elusive characteristic is more than mere charisma. It stems from deep self-knowledge that comes from reflection. It includes the ability to be in the moment, reach out, express yourself and connect with others. In their book entitled “Leadership Presence”, Kathy Lubar and Belle Linda Halpern define it as the following:

  • Being Present not pretentious.
  • Reaching Out not looking down.
  • Being Expressive not impressive.
  • Being Self-knowing not self-absorbed.

The concept is very simple. The embodiment of it is tough – especially in tough times! In my opinion, the real test of leadership is in how leaders act during hard times. My observation is that many are able to exude “presence” when times are good, but revert to defensive, self-protective if not narcissistic behaviors when times are tough.

So what are the behaviors that leaders can strive to exhibit during hard times? In my opinion, the leader who listens a greater percentage of the time than he or she talks demonstrates “being present not pretentious”. The leader who communicates informally and invites people at every level of the organization to share their thoughts and concerns is “reaching out not looking down”.  A leader who clearly communicates the good news and the bad with compassion and acknowledgment of his or her own feelings is “being expressive not impressive”. The leader who takes time to assess, reflect and acknowledge his or her own strengths, weaknesses, hopes and fears and spends an equal amount of time considering how he or she can understand and respect the needs of others is “being self-knowing not self-absorbed”.

While these qualities and behaviors are always important, during tough times they are pivotal to the morale as well as the productivity of the organization.