Being an effective leader in tough times

how to be a good leader
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Starting and running your own business can be exciting and highly rewarding. It is however filled with ups and downs, as the process of building a successful business is not linear. Every entrepreneur quickly learns that they have to wear many hats; you are the salesperson, the accountant, human resources officer, operations manager, product specialist, among many others. This is particularly in the start-up phase. As the business grows, some of these roles can be delegated to staff members.

But the key role that you must fulfil as an entrepreneur remains the ’leadership’’ role. This involves setting the vision and direction for the business, determining the actions that are neccessary to achieve these goals, ensuring that your team understands and buys into this vision, and that their activities aligns with it; basically ensuring that the business wins.

The entrepreneur will lead the business through varied circumstances; periods of growth, stability, decline or distress. One of the hardest periods that any leader would need to navigate their business through, is a period of ‘crisis brought on by external circumstances that the business has no control over, that affects not only the business, but the market at large.

The COVID-19 pandemic is that period of “crisis” which is having a major impact on economies around the world. Every business right now is anxious about whether they will survive beyond this global disaster. And small businesses have been impacted the hardest. The only difference any business can make now is choosing how they will navigate their way through the adversity.

There is a need for effective leadership now more than ever in any organisation, particularly small businesses. We unpack some key aspects that are needed to lead your team through this period of change and uncertainty.


Your team members are probably unsettled about the future of the company and their roles, so communicate with your team frequently. Be clear and honest about where the business stands, and if you are still trying to figure things out, let them know. Create platforms where you can hear from your team. The purpose of the sessions could vary from sharing ideas on cost savings, new product offering or simply sharing how people are feeling and the impact on their lives.

It is important to know what your team’s needs are, and also what solutions they may come up with.

Some practical ways of creating communication platforms are having weekly virtual meetings and daily check-ins to ensure that your staff still feel like they are a part of the team and to keep track of individuals who may need additional support. This gives you an indication of what they need to remain productive. Throughout a period of crisis, make sure you constantly reaffirm the direction of the business to give people a sense of stability and something to look forward to beyond the crisis.


Going into uncharted territories can generate a sense of fear, however, to overcome this, it requires one to be courageous. You may not know exactly what you need to do; in fact, no one can claim that they know what the future holds. However, it is important to lead your team with courage. So how does this look like? It is about moving forward into the unknown even when you don’t have things all figured out. Talk to your team about ‘’courage’’ and confronting your fears as a business by staying the course even when you don’t know what the outcome will be.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela.

Courage is recognising that the fear exists, but taking the steps to pursue what needs to be done in the interest of a bigger goal.


The ability to withstand tough situations is what strengthens and grows many businesses. It is key to keep this in mind when you are leading through a time of crisis. Build the resilience of the team by firstly helping everyone to accept the reality of the situation, and then start charting a way forward, taking into consideration your current circumstances. Everyone needs a mindshift, so that they do not view themselves as unfortunate, but rather embrace the opportunity to evolve into something different and better. I like to go back to this analogy; gold is refined through high temperature. Therefore, going through periods of difficulty can assist in strengthening the operations and affirming your business model.


The business needs to respond rapidly to the changes in the market as a result of the crisis. This may involve reviewing the overall business strategy and amending it in line with what the market currently requires, and what is projected for the future. As a team, it’s important to continuously ask how the business can keep generating an income, and how you need to adapt your core products or service to the current circumstance. Once you’ve outlined what you are going to do, act quickly by piloting your solution. Thereafter, assess whether it actually works.


Collaborate with your team to find strategies to ride the wave. You don’t have to figure everything out on your own. Every employee may have a unique solution or important contribution to make. Create regular platforms to discuss new strategies and to review what works and what doesn’t. Ensure every team member knows they have a valuable contribution to make.

Honesty and Transparency

You need to be honest and transparent about important matters that affects the business. For example, if you’ve lost contracts, this is the information that your staff need to know so that they understand where the business stands. Although your team may not know how the future looks, they certainly need to know that they can trust you as their leader.

Positivity and setting the direction

There is always something to gain out of adversity, depending on how you choose to look at it. Your perspective of the crisis will influence how your team looks at it. Always choose positivity. Look at the opportunities that you and your team can create. It is important to be the beacon of hope for your team. Always remind them of the vision and how to achieve it.

This article first appeared in the June/July issue of Your Business Magazine. Read the free issue online or download.

Busi RaphekwaneBusi Raphekwane is an entrepreneur development expert and founder of The Transformation Legacy. Contact her at:, 010 005 5753 or visit:

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