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Leadership when it’s most difficult.

I didn’t want to write this article. I’ve sat on the topic for two weeks now, staring at the headline I typed on my laptop, wondering if I had any right to write about this topic at all.

You see, up until two weeks ago it was easy to claim I was a leader. I showed up everyday, encouraged people, did my job, watched the bottom line, did normal bosslike things.

Looking back, it was easy to practice leadership skills when there were no hardships.

But as I sit here writing, the economy is in a severe and sudden downturn, my office is closed and my entire staff are working from home, I’ve had to do layoffs, I stress constantly about incoming leads and projects, I can’t talk to my team face-to-face other than on video calls, and I find myself struggling with my own inner anger, fear and I’ll admit—moment of tears.

I wake up asking myself how will I find the courage to lead the company through this. How will I navigate a team of people through something I myself have never navigated? Will the core values that my leadership is based upon stand up to the biggest enemy of all—fear?

Here’s the thing about leadership: If I give up on those values now when they are most needed and hardest to stand by, then everything I’ve done or said up to this point is a sham. I’ll be as faux as those vegan leather pants everyone is wearing. 

I guess I’m writing this as much to motivate others as I am to remind myself of what I need to do. Leadership and the values that support it can’t come and go when it’s hard, they have to be a constant thing that you do, no matter what. 

Don’t be afraid of transparency.

Now is not the time to hide facts or be protective of your end goals, it actually never was. Be honest with people and let them in on where you are going. Let your team know the state of the company, what you are planning for the future and what your goals are. Don’t sneak around making plans behind closed doors.

This not only allows people to see where things stand and plan their own future, but you’ll find that your team may actually start to rally around the same things, even helping to reach your goals. This is a freaking cool thing to see.

Show your vulnerability.

Okay, okay, there are times when I’m wrong (a slight few). Times when I don’t have my shit together (slightly more than a few), or I’m cranky, frustrated or don’t have an answer at all. It’s okay to admit that. 

People who own companies and manage teams are just that—people. Pretending that you aren’t vulnerable to the same emotions and setbacks as everyone else just makes others trust you less. 

Want to hear something cool that’s actually happened to me? When I admit my vulnerabilities, other people around me have stepped in to fill in the gaps. They’ve actually raised me up and made me stronger by filling in where they could offer strength. People by nature want to help each other. Give them permission to do so, and in return, fill in the gaps when they need it. 

Promote open communication.

Trust can only happen when there is a healthy policy of communication in your office. I fight tooth and nail to enforce this with my team, and no, it’s not because I’m social. It’s because without open lines of honest communication with each other, nothing in the whole company will work.

When you have problems to tackle, friction with another team member, a disagreement of how things were done, the absolute worst poison you can have in a company is not talking about it.

When you speak up and communicate in a direct, healthy and positive way, it destroys all questions, self-doubt, worry, resentment and gossip. I don’t mean send a Slack message or email. I mean get up and walk over, go for a coffee, meet together, video chat together, whatever it takes.

Connect on a personal level and encourage and promote conversation with each other, most especially in a crisis.

Practice acceptance.

Some days you are going to have to make the hard decisions. The decision to fire someone, to lay someone off, to handle difficult issues or have uncomfortable conversations. Don’t be so hard on yourself. If you are doing these things because they keep the company healthy, accept what you need to do and move on.

Not every single thing you do is going to be what everyone else wants. Some days you have to put the company first so that everyone has a company at all. Not everyone who works for you will understand that. Accept that you can be a good leader and also not be liked for your decisions, simultaneously.

Respect people.

A lot of leaders get wrapped up in whether their people like them. I do. I want friendships with everyone who works at my company, and to a large degree I can say I have that. 

But there is a divergence. Every single person has a different path than I do. Their need to advance their careers, to follow different desires and have different goals will always just slightly separate us. 

I’m doing what I set out to do, I have my career, I’ve built this thing. They have not, and some will most likely want to set out to find their own path. You need to respect that they have their own goals and dreams, and that they might not necessarily be the same as yours. This is okay, get over it.

If you have built a foundation of respect with the people around you, you’ll find that instead of anger, resentment and jealousy, you can actually root for each other. Strive to build respect with your team so that no matter what happens in the future, you know you have a pretty cool network of people who want the best for you, no matter where they are or what obstacles you face.

Don’t have it right? Keep trying.

You’d think that with all the things I’ve listed above I’d pretty much have all this leadership shit nailed down. Well I don’t, and you won’t either. In fact, I think the more you develop your leadership skills, the more insecure you’ll be in the fact that you aren’t quite there.

This is where that one final leadership trait comes in handy. Pure refusal to quit. Some people refer to this as stubbornness. And if that’s the case, then I do actually have every right to write about leadership, because that’s one trait I happen to have in spades.