Leading in Challenging Times


Social sector leaders are going through an extraordinary time of upheaval and change. Budgets are under ever-increasing pressure, funding is scarce and more and more organisations compete for the same smaller pool of resources.

Within this context leaders have to ensure a sustainable future for their organisations, find new sources of income, maintain the morale of their people and minimise the impact of change. Many leaders are finding themselves in new territory and feel ill equipped in terms of their leadership approach and style.

What is required of me as a leader in challenging times?

During challenging times everyone looks to their leaders to be visible. It is vital that you are available to answer questions, maintain your own energy and focus so that you can shape the future. In challenging times, people need information, direction, and a clear plan for action.

Being an authentic Leader

It is no surprise that when times are tough people want to be led by someone who is “real”. Authentic leaders have sincerity and integrity; they also are open with their teams about the reality of the scale of the challenges they face. This style of leadership is not acted out, but is an accurate refection of the leader’s inner self. True leadership requires individuals to rely on their intuition to understand the expectations and concerns of people they want to influence and courage to stand up and lead people out of uncertainty into confidence and surety.

Acknowledge Reality

People get nervous when times are uncertain. It is vital to give people more information, not less.
Be honest, now is not the time for sugar coating. You want your teams to know that they can trust you and that begins by accurately sharing all the information you can. Even if you do not have the complete answers that you would like to have, it is important to share consistently what you do know. It is vital to make an effort to increase the amount of face-to-face communication and do not rely to heavily on email.

Define Direction

Colleagues will want to know that there is a clear plan for dealing with the short-term and the long- term challenges and that leaders are directing this. They also want to know what will happen to them in the overall plan. Chart a course of action that is proactive and gives people a way to contribute, even if this is only in the short-term.

Manage People’s Energy and Concerns

Support teams and individuals to focus on doing things they can within their control rather than spending energy worrying about things that they cannot control. Work together as a team to problem solve and generate ideas.  Remember that challenging times have been managed before.

Focus Ahead

When the pressure is on and the stress is up, teams need to pull together and really focus on working together for the future – leaders must lead this. If all a team does is firefight during a crisis, they will eventually fade and burn out. Timeout to envision the future together is energising and uplifting. Following a clear strategic plan based on the realities faced, and managing people’s energy to remain focused and productive will greatly increase your team’s chance to thrive during challenging times.

Social leaders and must face up to the new challenging world and be willing to compete with all other organisations. They should create a brand that exciting, a business plan that is viable and innovation that is feasible. Most importantly they must adopt a leadership style and approach that engages everyone and harness the talent on their organisations.

Michelle Livingston