How to Lead Through Tough Times, and Bounce Back Stronger Than Ever We spoke to several successful entrepreneurs on what it takes to navigate through rough seas, some practices that could help get you through it, and how to get to the other side of this pandemic relatively unharmed

By Aparajita Saxena

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Angelina Bambina/Shutterstock via Weedmaps

The phrase 'every storm runs out of rain' is one of the most important things an entrepreneur should have in his/her travel case, especially given the inherent unpredictability of business.

Over the last couple of months, Covid-19 has changed the way the world operates - maybe even forever. This isn't the first time such a downturn has happened, and it definitely will not be the last.

We spoke to several successful entrepreneurs on what it takes to navigate through rough seas, some practices that could help get you through it, and how to get to the other side of this pandemic relatively unharmed.


Clarity is Key

Jonathan Jeffries, director and co-founder at startup talent and growth firm, Think & Grow says:

I was lucky enough to work under a great leader during the 2007- 2008 Global Financial Crisis. I learnt a lot and appreciated knowing the what, why and how of the situation. As a company, we've taken the same approach during the COVID-19 crisis.

Clarity is key. It's a simple strategy: we face each challenge with clear and honest communication, sharing what we know as soon as we know it. Our team is aware of what we are doing to solve the situation we're confronted with; what they can do to help; and how we will through this together.

For us, clarity works both ways - when we're honest, it gives our staff the chance to be open as well, so we can support each other both as colleagues and as friends. This even means finding moments of humour, despite the circumstances. Unlike during the GFC, there are lots of fun apps and tools available now to help teams stay connected.


One-on-one Conversations Are Important

Carolyn Breeze, ANZ General Manager at recurring payments platform, GoCardless says:

One-on-one conversations are critical during turbulent times because everyone handles a crisis differently. Great leaders understand that to bring out the best in their team, they must tap into the unique trigger points that motivate each individual to drive engagement and see performance results, even when times are tough.

We structure one-on-ones around five essential motivators - or the "five brain cravings' - which include: progress, meaning, autonomy, social inclusion and certainty. Using this framework, leaders can take a holistic view of performance drivers and tailor their management style to suit the needs of individual team members, creating robust workforces that not only survive but thrive in uncertainty.


Stay Calm and Allow Space for Vulnerability

Ben Thompson, CEO and co-founder of people management platform, Employment Hero says:

During chaotic times, there's nothing more important than staying calm. As a leader, you set the tone - panic, and your team will likely do the same.

There's so much out of our control right now, but we can control our reactions. My advice is to think decisions through, considering both the short and long-term implications; create contingency plans for various scenarios and lean on trusted peers and advisors for support before making decisions. With that in mind, when you do make a decision - back yourself. Lead with confidence and assuredness that you are doing the right thing for your team and business. It's important that you embrace an agile mindset, don't allow yourself to be held back by fear, customers would rather see action than inaction at this time.

When it comes to communicating with your team, allow yourself space to be vulnerable. Authenticity in challenging situations is always appreciated, but it must be balanced with a sense of optimism to keep staff motivated and engaged. Guide your team through this with a level-head, and you will give your business the best chance of bouncing back stronger than before.


Act Fast, and Decisively

Dr Gero Decker, CEO and co-founder of business transformation solutions provider, Signavio says:

Tough times separate the good leaders from the great ones.

People are concerned about their jobs - it's stressful to juggle between work commitments and keeping your home-life on track. Now, more than ever, your team looks to you for guidance. Stay calm, make considered choices and communicate early and often.

Your decision-making abilities and leadership values will be tested as conflicts arise. In normal circumstances, I favour collaboration and consensus, but during a crisis, you need to act fast and decisively. With that in mind, never make promises that you can't keep.

Remember that many of your team members will not have experienced a crisis before, so remind them that while times are tough, it's not the end of the world and they will bounce back.


Adopt an Agile Approach to Innovation

Michelle Gallaher, CEO of health data analytics company, Opyl says:

It's so important that we are mindful of our expectations on productivity during COVID-19. Leaders will need to adjust to the reality that employees' primary concerns at this time are their health and families, and we must make allowances for this. It's simply the right thing to do.

It's also important to lead through these tough times with a calm and considered confidence. It's not always about having the right answers, but if you lead with a calm and confident hand, people will listen to you. They need to feel settled during periods like this, while leaders need enough clarity to consider all their options.

COVID-19 also poses an interesting opportunity for leaders to experiment within their business - we have the chance to pilot new ideas and grow our services and products by trialing, adjusting and launching (repeat). Essentially, if resources permit it - now is the time to adopt an agile approach to innovation - and your leadership style by extension.

Aparajita Saxena

Former Deputy Associate Editor, Asia Pacific

Aparajita is Former Deputy Associate Editor for Entrepreneur Asia Pacific. She joined Entrepreneur after nearly five years with Reuters, where she chased the Asian and U.S. finance markets.

At Entrepreneur Asia Pacific, she wrote about trends in the Asia Pacific startup ecosystem. She also loves to look for problems startups face in their day-to-day and tries to present ways to deal with those issues via her stories, with inputs from other startups that may have once been in that boat.

Outside of work, she likes spending her time reading books (fiction/non-fiction/back of a shampoo bottle), chasing her two dogs around the house, exploring new wines, solo-travelling, laughing at memes, and losing online multiplayer battle royale games.


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