Extraordinary Leaders Manage Through Tough Times Like This

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"What reveals a man is his behavior in time of hunger." —African proverb

It takes an extraordinary and skillful leader to manage through tough times. Faced with a faltering global economy, a tentative and short tenure and increasing pressure to prove their value with revenue and ROI results, today's CMOs are managing in tough times.

But, although not commonplace, we've all seen it:

  • The leader who manages the toughest business challenges and comes out ahead;
  • Role models who face incredible adversity with grace, courage and character to create a lasting legacy;
  • Business leaders who navigate incredible turbulence to outlast and outmaneuver the storm.
I'm talking about against-all-odds success. Not success through luck (although luck is nice), but success through perseverance, tenacity and true grit. These are leaders who navigate the valley to reach the mountaintop.

So, how do masterful leaders successfully manage through challenging times?

They focus on relationships.

Because tough times bring fear, fear brings paralysis and paralysis is a killer, you need to counteract fear with love. The only way to do that is to focus on relationships and give all that you can to nurture and feed the relationships you have with customers, partners, employees and your team. Difficulty creates circumstances you cannot control or change. The one thing you can control is how you interact with others. Focus on relationships and what you can do.

John Wood, founder of Room To Read, has established more than 13,500 libraries, distributed 11 million books and is benefiting 6 million children to improve literacy around the world. In 2000 John started without resources or funding. At times, he slept in his car. He focused on relationships to get him through the tough stuff. John and his father made their first book delivery in Nepal with books donated by friends and family.

Relationships sustain us, elevate us, inspire us and help us along the rough road. We can all choose to be that person and that leader to help rally our teams through the tough times.

They put their hearts on their sleeves.

At the South By Southwest conference and festival, I was impressed by Elon Musk. As the founder of PayPal and SpaceX (to name a few of his accomplishments), this South African engineer, entrepreneur and self-made billionaire delivered a tremendous "aha" moment.

When asked, about his biggest mistake, Elon replied: "The biggest mistake in general I've made, and am trying to correct, is that I put too much weight on talent and not (enough on) personality. It actually matters whether someone has a good heart." (Repeat: Elon is an engineer)

Both good times and bad times require personality and heart and these traits trump raw talent. Skillful leaders have a heart and wear it, transparently and vulnerably, on their sleeves.

They find their higher-order purpose.

Eduardo Conrado, senior VP-marketing and IT at Motorola Solutions, is a leader who walks the talk. He starts with "the why" and practices purpose-driven marketing and leadership. He advises, "Be crystal-clear on your purpose so that your team, your company, can rally around a higher purpose."

In tough times, it is especially critical to have a higher-order purpose. It propels employees through the morass, fends off gridlock and creates a feeling of good will, meaning and significance on a team and individual level.

As a leader, have you found and communicated your higher purpose?

They Build. Inspire. Share.

You may be thinking, that sounds great but how can this apply to my business? You may have a technology company, or a manufacturing company. How can relationships, heart and purpose be incorporated into that? It's about being inspired to see the connection between what you do and how it can impact the world. If you spend the two minutes to watch this John Butterill video you'll understand exactly what I mean. Technology can transform lives in beautiful and unexpected ways.

They activate the failsafe.

If all else fails, there is one last-ditch approach that extraordinary leaders take. They hunker down, grit their teeth and outlast the storm. In the words of Hal Borland, "No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn."

In tough times, great leaders are needed more than ever. Extraordinary leaders work to be the best they can be to help their teams weather the rough road. Together.

Sandra Zoratti is an author, speaker and marketer. You can find Sandra on LinkedIn, Twitter @sandraz and on her website,

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