In leading through adversity: 1) Honestly and objectively assess the current situation – the good, the bad, and the ugly. 2) Choose your path forward, focusing on what you can influence and impact and letting go of what you cannot change. 3) Inspire and enable others to commit to actions knowing that they (and their work) matters and with confidence in their own abilities to be part of the solution.

Honestly and objectively assess the current situation

As Stockdale put it, this is about confronting the most brutal facts of the current reality. Be clear on the difference between true facts (not open to interpretation,) perceived facts (influenced by biases,) and assumptions (not necessarily based on facts.) These set up your conclusions, choices and actions.

Dig deep to understand what’s going on across customers, collaborators, your own capabilities, competitors, and conditions outside your control especially during times of extreme uncertainty:

  • physically with people, places and things,
  • emotionally with great empathy – listening and being curious,
  • financially.

Choose your path forward

Choices follow conclusions. Distinguish between what you can and cannot change. Then focus on pragmatically optimistic outcomes – the first two components of Leo Flanagan’s resiliency model.

  • “Focus:” putting attention to the matters and people at hand.
  • “Pragmatic optimism:” a belief that the future will be better and that you will have a role in making it so.

Make choices about what you both can and choose to accomplish and the impact you can and choose to have with what effect.

Inspire and enable others to commit to actions

Leadership is about inspiring and enabling others to do their absolute best together to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose. Build on your situation assessment and choices to inspire and enable others to move towards that better future.

If you tell them what to do, the best you can get is compliance. If you sell, test or consult with them to get their input, they can contribute. Contribution is fine. But, if you want their commitment, they need to co-create the path to that future so they own it. That’s an essential first step in helping them believe they matter and build confidence in their own abilities to deliver.

Enabling success has several components:

  • Clarify what’s getting decided and done by whom by when with what resources. This is partly about balanced goal setting – with measurable milestones and goals. It also enables self-control to limit distractions and avoid multi-tasking.
  • Monitor progress, recognizing, appreciating, and celebrating success and adjusting along the way with the agility to experiment and then quickly change course to achieve interim and overall objectives in the face of challenges. This is partly about self-reflection – objectively reviewing past behaviors, attitudes, perspectives and results.
  • Keep going with the grit to persevere towards your chosen future.

Taking charge following a sudden promotion

Onboarding into new leadership roles is especially risky during challenging times. While the basics of onboarding and leading through adversity apply, keep three things in mind.

1.    You can’t control the situation but you can re-frame what it means. So, prepare in advance as much as possible; be ready to adjust as required. Take a stop – even if only for a few minutes – to assess your predecessor’s legacy, the current situation, and choose your path to a brighter future. Secure the resources and support you need. Then, go with the flow, regaining control of the situation as much as you can, and jumping into the dirty work as appropriate.

2.    It’s hard to make a clean break. So, take control of your own message and transition as much as you can. Know that everyone is scared and their only question is “What about me?” Meet them where they are on Maslow’s hierarchy. Manage the announcement cascade. Secure your base, ensuring your “old” area’s ongoing success, and recognizing the people who helped you along the way.

3.    There is no honeymoon, especially during times of adversity. So, set direction and generate momentum quickly after your start, inspiring and enabling the players to commit or recommit to action. In a crisis, think physical safety, reputation and finances – in that order. In any case, evolve the stated and defacto strategies, improve operations, and strengthen your organization as you lead through and out of adversity.

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #670) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.