How to Be a Great Leader When Times Are Tough

Every leader and organization faces tough times. And whether that adversity is small and short-lived, or severe and long-lasting, experiencing some form of turmoil is inevitable.


You won’t find a quick fix or a specific formula to the tasks at hand; rather, you must approach tough times with a steady mind, a kind heart, and above all, a strong passion to lead your team in the positive direction you want to go.

1. Stay calm and handle the FUD.

It’s a normal human reaction to feel Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) during times of stress. Great leaders stay calm and collected so they can make better decisions under pressure. Keeping your cool isn’t just for your own benefit; it also helps your team see how they should act when encountering tough times of their own.

Stay calm and handle the FUD.

2. Stay on-task.

In the midst of tough times, you and your team must stay focused on the task at hand. As a leader you are responsible for setting an example and showing your team how to stay on-task. When you feel yourself getting distracted, remember this: your team is counting on you to help guide them.

3. Anticipate challenges.

Even when it seems like things can’t possibly get worse, the truth is, they probably can. Anticipating future risks will help your team respond to impending challenges more effectively and quickly. One way to prepare for possible risks is to talk with team members and anticipate potential threats and challenges. Brainstorm ways to mitigate risk and create plans to handle situations.

4. Keep the mess in the kitchen.

People rarely go into the kitchen of their favorite restaurant. The duty of the restaurant owner is to make sure the tough times in the kitchen don't make their way to the dining room. It may be difficult to keep your organization's tough times contained, especially when it involves public struggles. However, preventing tough times from distracting the organization off its core mission is critical.

It makes little sense to take the challenge or argument from the kitchen to the dining room.

5. Encourage yourself and your team.

Rather than succumb to the stress caused by adversity, flip challenges on their head and use them as an opportunity to learn and grow. When you’re able to find positivity in the situation at hand, you’ll be better prepared to encourage your team. Do your best to find the bright spots in the situation. Ask: What can we salvage? What can we do under our control? Your continued positivity will undoubtedly have a contagious effect on everyone around you, thus creating a more resilient work environment.

Do your best to find the bright spots in tough times.

6. Communicate frequently with the right people.

It’s key to communicate the right information to the right people, early and often. To keep a steady line of communication, try holding check-in meetings with other members of your leadership team, and be sure to also meet with your direct team frequently during tough times—you want to curb misinformation and rumors.

7. Use your resources wisely.

Organizations facing crisis must be sure to conserve the time, money, and other resources available to them. However, many leaders make the mistake of not using their resources enough, for fear of depleting them and exacerbating problems in future crisis. Knowing when and how to use resources is a critical leadership skill that can be honed by working closely with other leaders and understanding the long-term scope of a company’s situation.

8. Imitate the leaders who inspire you.

Think about a brand or company you especially admire. Behind that company is probably great leadership that responds calmly, heroically, and aptly in times of turmoil. To draw inspiration from the leaders you admire, do some research to find out what problem the company faced, and how the leaders responded. Consider how they communicate, how they treat their team, and how they respond to unexpected changes. Even if that company’s situation was completely different from the one you face, it’s likely that a handful of lessons await you.

Draw inspiration from leaders you admire.

How do you stay positive in tough times? Please add to the conversation—comment below or on Twitter at @gregbellspeaks.