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Tantrums are not just for toddlers: Leading in challenging times

I had the usual battle this morning during the school run.

While my 6 year old ran off to her class happily, my pre-schooler was stuck to my leg like glue, making it painfully clear she didn’t want me to leave her.

We’ve had the same pattern for a number of mornings in a row. Full blown histrionics; a wailing, crying 3 year old who doesn’t want me to leave her at nursery. But at this stage of the morning, I mentally track through all the reasons I feel this is a positive step for her.

I momentarily move aside the emotional tug of her tears, and walk through in my mind the positive aspects of her attendance at nursery:

-She will be school-ready when it’s time to begin her journey through school.

-She is engaged, stimulated and has plenty of fun. I can see that in the many photos sent to me during the school day.

-Most importantly for me, she’s socialising with her peers and learning to make friends.

I reason through all of these things in my mind, and although parental guilt can occasionally pierce through, I am confident in my decision that I am doing what is best for my daughter. I know that I must remove the nagging doubt, the emotional reaction I feel and stick with my logical decision.

It struck me that there are parallels to be drawn here between my daily drop-off struggles and leading during challenging times. A good leader can lead when times are good, but an outstanding leader can lead when times are tough.

When difficult decisions must be faced and perplexing terrain lies ahead, it can feel tempting to slide into a trap of negative thoughts, thinking more about the detrimental consequences of decisions on your employees rather than the possible opportunities that lie ahead. As a leader, you are responsible for creating an environment in which your team can thrive, even when the going gets tough.

So, what can you do as a leader to ensure the decisions that lie ahead can be met with enthusiasm and strength rather than fear and trepidation?

Here are some handy hints for dealing with challenges in the workplace:

Make your position known

If changes are about to occur, be clear about your expectations from the outset. Take time to map out each scenario so that you feel empowered when discussing challenges ahead. In times of trouble, your team need to see you lead by example - take the bull by the horns and talk your team through all of the options. They’ll be grateful for your candour and straightforward leadership style.

Put aside any emotional ties you may feel

This is easier said than done, but just as I must focus each morning with my pre-schooler, learn to shelve your emotional connection temporarily, so that collaborative solutions can be considered logically and thoroughly. If your team witness you stepping outside of your emotional framework to make rational, well-reasoned decisions, they will feel confident in the final outcome.

Engage positively with a challenging situation

Even if this feels difficult, it’s worth putting in the time and effort to view the problem from all angles: where is the positive element? How can you adjust the frame through which you perceive the challenge? How can you encourage your team to shine when problems feel insurmountable? This is where your creativity and flair can shine - view the situation from this perspective and immediately it becomes something you should embrace and welcome. It’s your chance to lead, in the real sense of the word.

Commit to the difficult path ahead and then go for it

Inaction is your enemy in times of crisis. Take control of the situation, face the challenges head on and your true leadership abilities will dazzle those around you.

Tomorrow morning, when I walk through the school gates and the ensuing battle begins, I’ll take time to remind myself that I am the leader of my pack, and I’ll face the challenges ahead with a rational, well-reasoned thought process, allowing my daughter the stability and freedom to explore her emotions safe in the knowledge that I will always do what’s best for her.

Lead well, and others will follow.

by jen thornton

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