Chris Widener
Tough and challenging times will surely come for a business leader. That is a given. Certainly, many would say that we are currently living in tough and challenging times. The question is, what kind of leadership will we demonstrate during those times? Those who are weak leaders will see lasting damage done, if not see their organization fall apart completely.

With extraordinary leaders at the helm, however, an organization can actually become stronger and thrive in spite of the tough times. That should be our goal. So here are some ideas on how to be an extraordinary leader in tough and challenging times.

Keep Your Eye On The Big Picture

When things get tough, everybody’s temptation is to become acutely focused on the problem. The extraordinary leader, however, will keep his or her eye on the big picture. This doesn’t mean that we don’t address the problem. In fact, we have to address the problem. But what separates a leader from a follower is that the leader doesn’t get caught up in the problem. The leader sees the big picture and keeps moving toward the vision. The further they take their followers toward the vision, the further away from the problem they get.

Don't Get Caught In The War Or The Friendly Fire

When it gets tough, even the most loyal team members can be tempted to start shooting and, unfortunately, they sometimes shoot each other. Rather than focusing on the enemy on the outside, they begin to question each other and find many faults with one another that they normally would not have seen.

The extraordinary leader is the one who can keep from being dragged into the fray. They keep their eye on the big picture and act rationally and objectively. They understand that people are heated and are saying things they don’t really mean. The people are firing because they are angry or scared. The extraordinary leader understands this and rises above it. This way, they take fewer arrows and they set the example for their followers.

Be First To Sacrifice

When it gets tough, like when there has to be cuts in salaries, etc., the leader should do just that — lead. They need to not only be the one who is rewarded the greatest when all is well, but they need to be the first to sacrifice.

The extraordinary leader says, “I know many of you are concerned with the salary cuts. I am too. In the long run we will be healthy again but, for the mean time, this is necessary. Understanding this, I want you to know that I am taking a 20 percent pay reduction myself. I want you to know that we are in this together.”

The extraordinary leader is the first to sacrifice and will be rewarded with the loyalty of his or her followers.

Remain Calm

Panic is one of the basest of human emotions and no one is immune to it. The extraordinary leader, however, takes time out regularly to think the issues through so they can remain calm. They remind themselves that all is not lost and there will be another day. They remind themselves that being calm will enable them to make the best decisions — for themselves and for their followers. Panic only leads to disaster, while calm leads to victory.


In tough and challenging times, people are naturally down. They tend to be pessimistic. They can’t see how it is all going to work out. Thus, they have a hard time getting going.

The extraordinary leader knows this and will focus in on being the optimistic motivator. He or she will come to the office knowing that, for the time being, the mood of the group will be carried and buoyed by the leader and his/her attitude. Above all else, the leader will seek to show how the end result will be good, and with this motivate the group to continue on, braving the current storms, and on to their shared destiny.

Create Small Wins

One of the ways to motivate is to create small wins. The extraordinary leader knows that in tough times his or her people may think that all is lost. They wonder if they can win. So the extraordinary leader creates opportunities for the team to win, even if they are small. They set smaller, more achievable goals and remind and reward the team members when they hit those goals. With each small win, the leader is building the esteem and attitude of his followers, digging them out of their self-created hole of fear.

Keep A Sense Of Humor

Look, hardly anything in life can’t be laughed at. The extraordinary leader knows that even if the whole company goes down the drain, we still go home to our families and our lives go on with their support.

The extraordinary leader keeps perspective and knows that we humans act irrationally when we get scared, and sometimes that is humorous. Don’t ever laugh at someone’s expense in this situation, because that will be perceived as cold and heartless, regardless of what you meant by it, but do keep the ability to laugh at yourself and the situations that present themselves. By doing this you will keep yourself and your team in an attitude that will eventually beat the tough times.

Chris Widener is a popular speaker and writer as well as the president of Made for Success and Extraordinary Leaders, two companies designed to help individuals and organizations turn their potential into performance. For more information, visit his websites at and Copyright 2003 Made for Success. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Publication date: 06/16/2003