When the going get’s tough…

The last 18 months have been a season of adversity and challenges unprecedented in recent memory. Difficult times can make or break an organization. The difference oftentimes lies in leadership. In his recent book, Leading in Tough Times, author and leadership expert, John C. Maxwell, lays out how to lead during times of adversity so that your organization doesn’t just survive but actually comes out stronger in the face of that adversity.

First and foremost, Maxwell takes a simple point as given: Life is hard. Pain and suffering are a part of the world. So any engagement with the world necessarily entails a degree of risk and struggle. There will be unexpected challenges.You will make mistakes. Your colleagues and associates will too. Leadership is all about what you do with this stark reality.

Good leaders know that mistakes are there for a reason. They don’t exist in a vacuum. Most problems are not mere freak accidents or bad luck, but the result of errors or oversights. There is thus opportunity in adversity. When things break down, you can review your processes and work to revise or refine them.

With all this in the background, the role of leaders in tough times becomes even more important. It is not simply a matter of stepping up and helping your team weather the storm. You also need to know how to seize upon the opportunities for growth and change that are latent in tough times.

The book then elaborates on this theme in the following chapters, which are all structured around the different challenges posed for leaders in difficult times. These range from “The Self-leadership Challenge” all the way through “The Decision-making Challenge.” The book paints with a pretty broad brush, but the actionable advice and general principles are quite solid.

For example, in “The Teamwork Challenge,” Maxwell writes about how to build and scale teams to meet unexpected challenges. Collaboration and communication are always essential, but challenges only highlight their importance. As a leader, one of your key roles is building strong relationships with your team members so that you can empower them to work together more effectively.

The portrait of leadership that emerges from this is compelling. Leaders need first and foremost to be self-disciplined and self-motivated. No one else is responsible for you acquiring and maintaining your skills and knowledge base but you. From there, leaders need to focus on defining reality for their teams. Nothing vague or nebulous, just the facts on the ground. Nevertheless, where leaders really shine is in building relationships so that they can effectively communicate their vision to their team and give them hope and strength even in the face of overwhelming odds.

The book is quite short, at just under 150 pages. It’s a timely reminder of both the role of leadership in difficult times as well as the latent potential nested in adversity. If you’re looking for a good introduction to Maxwell’s ideas on leadership, Leading in Tough Times is a great place to start.

Leading in Tough Times is available for purchase here.

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