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Three Ways to Keep Your Team Motivated During Difficult Times

Three Ways to Keep Your Team Motivated During Difficult Times

Reading the news can be pretty alarming. Everywhere you look, headlines threaten a downturn, displacements, and executives under pressure. Leaders and their teams are being pushed to adapt to rapid changes, which in turn can lead to frustration, uncertainty, and a dip in motivation and morale. If you sense unease brewing within your team, act quickly! How you and your team cope can have a real impact on your organization’s success.

Look to the past.

This is likely not the first time you or your team has experienced a downturn or a disruption, and it won’t be the last, either. A downturn is an “in-between” moment, a temporary time that you and your team need to get through until things pick up again. Before you catastrophize a situation, remember that you’ve been here before - and so have many others. What can you learn from their experiences to create solutions for your team in the present?

As you approach a new difficulty, consider how other companies and leaders have managed successfully through a downturn. Who managed to thrive during the 2008 financial crisis, and how? A 2016 study of the 2008 downturn revealed that the action of the leaders had a significant impact on how their organization survived the crisis. Leaders who viewed the financial crisis as an opportunity not only for learning, but for innovation, were more successful than those who viewed it negatively. Prioritizing communication, from employees to stakeholders, was also impactful. Open communication allowed leaders and teams to trust each other more easily, leading to better collaboration and culture. Successful leaders also reminded themselves and their teams of the values and mission of the company. This helped them prioritize what actions to take and also fostered a sense of unity in the organization.

The lessons from past downturns are numerous, and that isn’t even counting your own experiences, so make the effort to reflect on and learn from the past. Tellingly, the study also found that anticipation and preparation were critically important and impacted the leader’s actions during and post-crisis. Leaders who had prepared for this very scenario were more likely to make it through unscathed, so if you feel a disruption coming, don’t wait until it arrives to formulate a plan.

[Related: Why You Need to Stage Meanings -- Not Just Meetings]

Be transparent.

When I reflected on how to lead in a crisis in September, I quoted something I’d recently heard Kenneth I. Chenault say:

The role of a leader during a crisis is to define reality and give hope.

It’s a difficult tightrope to walk. Underplaying a situation can lead to inaction, but overstating the severity can be equally ineffective. If you’re debating how to communicate something to your team, remember the power of transparency. A lack of transparency can encourage behaviors like gossip, speculation, and rumors, potentially corroding the trust your team has in you. Communicating the reality of a situation and how it might affect your team can actually make them feel more secure about their future, not less.

This kind of radical honesty only inspires hope if you also bring in solutions, so plan ahead. The power of transparency is boosted when your team understands the plan you and your organization have to face the challenge. If you are cutting costs or changing technologies, explaining the reasoning behind doing so and the plan you have going forward makes it much easier for your team to accept these changes. Get specific about what you will cut or change, and how it will affect them directly. Answer questions with as much authenticity as you are able, and make sure to squash any rumors as soon as they come up. When your team feels prepared for what’s ahead, the adoption of new policies or changes proceeds much more smoothly.

[Related: The Top Four Ways You Lie at Work]

Set the example.

As a leader, your team looks to you for how to behave, and it’s even more true in times of uncertainty. How you react to or cope with stressors informs your team’s reaction, so don’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater. Instead, model a calmer, more balanced reaction for your team. This can be difficult to do in the moment, so it helps to be proactive in changing how you conduct yourself in times of difficulty. To prepare for uncertain times, I like to refer to Steve Chandler’s Creator/Reactor Choice.

This theory breaks people down into two groups: Creators and Reactors. A Creator is someone who takes full responsibility for the happiness (or unhappiness) in their own life. Reactors are people who blame how they are feeling on outside sources. For Reactors it’s always the situation, the circumstance, how other people are behaving that control how they feel. Creators know that, no matter the situation, how they feel is dependent on their reaction. It’s a major shift in thinking, but the good news is that everyone is able to shift from Reactor to Creator. That is the choice Chandler talks about. Instead of being a Reactor to the situation, you can instead choose to take ownership. It’s always a choice, and when you practice making that choice, you reroute neural pathways in the brain, allowing Reactors to become Creators over time.

In times of uncertainty, it’s up to leaders to keep their teams moving forward. While you can’t control what will happen or predict the future, there is much you can do. When you model good behaviors, communicate with honesty, and prioritize team connection, you can help your team to successfully weather any storm that comes your way.

[Related: Moving Forward: Real-Life Work Lessons to Bring into Post-Pandemic Life]


Kathryn Landis the Founder and CEO of Kathryn Landis Consulting, a global executive and team coach firm dedicated to helping leaders take the next step towards greatness by empowering and inspiring their teams, becoming the best version of themselves in work and life, and making a positive impact. She also serves as a Professor of Leadership and Marketing at New York University and as a Board Member of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management Alumni Club of New York.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.