3 Tips for Leading Through Adversity, Pt. 1

With all that is going on around us due to the COVID-19 crisis, many of us are wondering what is in store for our businesses or our jobs. We’re wondering how we can take care of our families. How are we going to get by?

If your confidence is not shaken, then it is likely that you’re not looking at the reality of what we are facing right now. 

But gaining confidence and addressing the crisis is not something that is out of our reach. In fact, there are things that we can do today that will enable us, our businesses, and our communities to address the problems we all are facing and to come out stronger on the other side.

Let’s take a look at the wisdom that Michael Hyatt, the former CEO of Thomas Nelson publishers, recently shared on his podcast, Lead to Win.


Before we get into how you should respond, recognize that there are a few ways that we will be tempted to respond, but that really don’t work.

The first is to revert to the “fight, flight, or freeze” model of reacting. When we’re in this mode, we’re not making good decisions (if any at all) and we’re leading people in a bad direction—think a deer in the headlights.

Another poor response is to just keep plugging away in a ‘business-as-usual’ mindset. We can’t ignore what is going on around us without incurring severe consequences down the road. The economic impact of this crisis cannot be ignored, so we must act.

More than anything right now, we need the confidence to act. “Our greatest assets right now are clear thinking and the ability to flex strategically, and both of those come as a result of confidence. Fear is reactive; confidence is proactive.”

But how do we lead with confidence when going through a crisis that encourages fear at every turn? Hyatt gives us three actions that we must take to gain the confidence to lead through a crisis with confidence.


The first action we must take in response to a crisis is to recognize a few important aspects of our condition.


If you’re going to act rightly, you have to see the situation you’re in. This is the first aspect of the Stockdale paradox referred to in Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great. The Stockdale Paradox comes from Collins’s conversations with prisoner of war Admiral James Stockdale, where he learned that to get through any crisis you, first, have to recognize the brutal facts of your current reality.

Each of us has responded to this pandemic in different ways: some have been binging Netflix, some are panic buying, and some have been digging in and getting to work. Even if we took things slowly while we got used to our new reality, we can’t continue in that mode very long without burdening our future selves (and those who depend on us) with a load too heavy to bear.

People need to hear the truth from us as leaders, and we can’t tell them the truth if we don’t know what’s going on. So, we need to honestly assess our situation if we are to recognize our circumstances rightly. And we need to continue assessing our circumstances as they continue to change in the weeks and months ahead


It is important, as well, that as we observe the crisis, we also observe ourselves. We must be self-aware and see that how we are acting is actually contributing to the crisis for those we are leading and influencing. And if we are going to get a handle on how we react, we need to see how we’re reacting first.

So take a look in the mirror. How are you reacting in the midst of the chaos around you? Are you getting caught up in the ever-flowing river of news that is meant to entice you and spin you up into a frenzy? How is that helping you?

Instead, look at focusing on the things that you can control. Most of us don’t have a say in what happens in Washington, or even Nashville, but we do have control over our thoughts. So be careful of what you’re putting in, because it is what will eventually come out. 


You also need to recognize that you have a lot of resources as a leader. While you may not have been through an economic crisis before now, you have been in smaller kinds of crises that will inform how you weather the storm now.

“Just recognizing the emotional, relational, financial, and spiritual resources we possess is critical for having the confidence we need to make the right decisions during a crisis.”


That leads to the next action that we must take when facing a crisis—reassess. Now that we have seen the lay of the land and understand what it is we are facing, we need to do the hard thinking and reassess our position relative to the threat. We need to move from being reactive to being proactive. In order to do that, we have to be honest with ourselves regarding where we are, and there are three areas to which we particularly need to pay attention.


As we reassess our position, the first area to bring into our sights is what vulnerabilities we have in light of the crisis.  Will there continue to be disruptions in our supply chain? How will the crisis impact our customers? Can your team continue to function well working remotely? If you choose to come back to the office to work, how will you keep your employees safe? If you can’t meet your customers face to face, is your marketing enough to get to them? Are your customers too distracted by the crisis to even engage with your marketing? Taking an honest assessment of your company’s vulnerable areas is essential!


But if all we do is get a clear view of what the vulnerabilities are, we’ve gained no ground. We have to use the knowledge we gained regarding where we’re vulnerable to reassess what we can do to stop being vulnerable! “How can you minimize or reduce fixed costs, pause new expenses, free yourself up from burdensome obligations to your time that are keeping you from innovating?”

We need to be seeing where we can cut ties with poor business ventures or reallocate our staff to working on things that are actually profitable. As an illustration, consider what Steve Jobs said when he returned to position of CEO of Apple Computers and slashed the product line—”Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.”

Not everyone has to mitigate risks the same way. Hyatt encourages a tiered approach. Tier one may be minimal but advantageous changes to your normal business practices. Tier two might be redirecting resources to more profitable endeavors. And tier three might be radical moves like layoffs, renegotiating debt, and pivoting on your products.


That leads us to reassess the opportunities that crises afford us. When we’re in times of abundance, it is easy for our businesses to start bloating with bureaucracy and helpful, but unnecessary things. Crises give us an opportunity to strip those things out, strengthening our business in the end.

Think about the money that can be saved by working from home. Some products and sales channels will need to come to the fore sooner in response to the crisis, and you will end up better for it in the end.

As an example, when Hyatt was the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing, they used to attend a giant trade show once a year that would cost half a million dollars to attend. But they realized that very little of their business actually stemmed from that trade show. Instead, they chose to put on a special, smaller show for the clients that bought most of the books anyway, and by doing so they cut their costs to one fifth of what they would have spent.

When identifying opportunities, two questions you should ask are:

  1. How are you uniquely placed to help customers right now? What can you do that is part of the solution that people need right now?
  2. Do market concerns make your products more relevant? “Can you reposition a product to address the current reality in a more palpable or obvious way for your customers?”

Now, there is a danger in getting stuck in reassessment mode. To quote General Patton, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” We need to respond by taking action on our reassessments!

We’ll continue with Hyatt’s third tip for leading through adversity in our next post. In the meantime, if there is anything that we can do to help you lead your business, please reach out to us by phone or through our website. We look forward to joyfully serving you!

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