How To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times: The Five Things You Need To Know

I love being interviewed by Authority Magazine, mainly because I am always asked thought-provoking questions which lead to really insightful discussions about women in business, leadership, culture change, workplace transformation and what’s coming next. The most recent interview was part of Authority magazine’s interview series, “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times.” You can read the entire interview here.

Businesses (and people) with purpose are more successful

In 2002 when I decided to launch my own business after careers in academia, banking and healthcare, I turned to my PR firm to help me define my management consultancy. As I said in the Authority Magazine interviewmy PR guru John Rosica told me, “Andi, your story is that you are a corporate anthropologist who helps companies, and the folks within them, to change.” When John said those words, he captured my purpose and what I wanted my company to achieve. I knew that change was painful, but necessary, if business leaders and their staff (my future clients) were going to transform their companies when fast-changing times hit.

Twenty years later, with two award-winning books, numerous speaking engagements, a thriving podcast series, and a full roster of coaching and consulting clients, that purpose has served me and my company well. On both a personal and a professional level, I have found that it has been a key differentiator to SAMC’s success. The other differentiator is living that purpose in everything my team and I say and do.

I have learned that leading other people requires them to do 3 things with you

I’ve never followed a traditional leadership style of “command and control.” As I described in the interview, most of my leadership and executive career has been working within a fast-changing environment, requiring me to take a more collaborative approach. To be a good leader, you need to have followers who will:

1. Buy into the story you have crafted about where they are going and why it matters.

2. Trust that you will not let them fail if they follow you in unfamiliar directions.

3. Celebrate the small wins as you move forward.

When faced with a challenge, leaders need to solve the problem or tap others to help them find solutions

When things are changing, as I stated in the interview, the most critical role of a leader is to leave the familiar. If that leader is you, you need to get out of your office and go hang out with the folks you are supposed to be leading. Unfamiliar times require unique solutions. Rather than thinking you have all the answers, allow yourself to appear vulnerable, uncomfortable, and searching for the right ideas from the very people who are looking to you to lead them. Don’t be afraid to ask for help — it really is a sign of strength.

When asked for a #1 principle that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times, I answered with a proverb

An Icelandic one in fact: “A wise man changes his mind, a fool never will.”

Like grasses in the wind, turbulence requires people and organizations to stay nimble, agile and adaptive. Changes will always be coming at you, sometimes fast, sometimes (like now) really, really fast. You must assess what these changes mean for your company and how you are going to adapt and even capitalize on them. And then shift. As I always say, don’t waste a crisis. A good leader doesn’t.

The 5 most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain times like these

Here’s how I answered in the interview:

1. Where are you today? What does your future look like? As a leader, you are expected to see what is coming and help others get there. Start with an honest assessment of where you are today regarding your talent pool, technology, services, solutions, rivals and narrative (your branding story). Spend a day in your customer’s life and watch how they are challenged. Bring in a team of experts from outside your business to learn what they are seeing and the signals they are watching. Build your vision of the future from the outside in.

2. Your markets are moving — but to where and how? Are you listening? You, not your marketing team or your external researchers. Listen to your future customers and those of today. What are their unmet needs, their frustrations? Be open to shifting from a B2B or B2C mentality to a B4B or B4C one — from doing to others to doing with them for better solutions.

3. How are you leading and building your talent and your teams? How capable is your team of adapting to change? Do they embrace the new or resist it? How do you know? Are you building their skills for the jobs that are emerging? Leaders need followers or they cannot get jobs done. Remember, your people are watching you. Are you developing your own skills for the future?

4. How agile is your business? The pandemic has opened entirely new markets. Everything is going through a tremendous and continuing transformation: supply chain challenges, climate change, and employees’ demands for a workplace that has meaning, inclusivity and clear values. Then there are the discussions around remote vs. in-person vs. hybrid work, and even what the meaning of work is. As a leader, how will you adjust? Better yet, anticipate?

5. See the future; it is here now! As a leader, your job is to articulate and live what you believe is your organization’s future. What do you see? How are you framing the visualization of that future? People are waiting for your new story. What should it be? Create it with your team and with your customers of tomorrow. And then tell it over and over, so it comes alive.

My favorite quote about what makes a great leader

This is from Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher, writer and founder of Taoism (I added the feminine):

“A leader is best when people barely know he/she exists. When his/her work is done, his/her aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” 

Throughout my life, I have put this thinking at the center of how I lead others. It has never been about me. My job has always been to help others thrive and soar. If they do their very best, I am a success.

From Observation to Innovation,

Andi Rethink
Andi Simon, Ph.D.
CEO | Corporate Anthropologist | Author