David Harding: How some small tips can help the true leader in you emerge during trying moments

David Harding, CEO, HardingPoorman Group

It has been said that during challenging times, true leaders emerge. Since challenging times are absolutely upon us, it’s time to check in and see how you are doing. Here are some areas on which to focus.

Step up to the plate.

When difficult decisions come across your desk such as layoffs and salary cuts, it’s time to take the lead. Recognize the rewards you received during better times, and let your team hear that although you may ask everyone to make a sacrifice for the company’s well-being, you will do so first.

Then, let your team know what you are personally doing (no bonus, taking a pay cut, etc.). Be the general that your troops will love to fight for.

The big picture.

A good leader will not get caught up in company problems. True leaders have a vision that helps keep the rest of the team focused. Help lead the charge toward that vision — which will slowly affect positive growth and change.

Reward creative ideas and those that find interesting ways to impact the bottom line most effectively.

Where’s your sense of humor?

Keep it alive and spread positive morale around the company. Find ways of rewarding your team that won’t break the budget ― perhaps leaving early on Friday afternoons, bringing in breakfast on Mondays, having a little fun with contests or unusual awards.

Environmental status.

Keep your business a pleasant place in which to work. You don’t want to lose your best employees due to worry or strain. And you do want to lead by example. Buckle down… with a smile.

Find ways to re-focus the energies, and minimize the internal strife.

Remain calm.

Panic leads to chaos. Anger and irritability often make the best people uncomfortable and inspire panic in others. Panic can lead to gossip about firings, people leaving in droves and other chaos.

Performance based on fear will not foster the peak functioning needed to pull ahead. Remaining calm brings strength to the best decisions as well as your team.

Small wins.

Great leaders know that there is a fine line between your staff wondering if they can win and giving up. The extraordinary leader takes large goals and breaks them into small incremental targets that their team finds achievable.

They reward these goals and in the process, build the esteem of the staff as they regroup to hit the next target.

Communicate more than you think you should.

Employees get nervous about job security and this means lost productivity. Keep the channels of communication wide open, informing employees about what is happening and how the company is responding.

When rumors emerge, respond promptly and factually while maintaining confidential.

Be visible.

Your team needs to see more of you. Make regular “rounds” of your office, satellite branches and offices nearby. Talk to middle management, new employees, interns, folks in the mail room, IT department and those in your call centers. Put this on your calendar and make it a priority. Remember names, ask about family and commend your staff for what they are doing to help the company move through this difficult time.

There’s a saying that when the flight is going well, the pilot lets people enjoy the movie. But when there’s turbulence, travelers want to hear the calm voice of their pilot telling them how long the turbulence may last.

Focus on gaining market share.

Although the economy may realistically not allow for sales growth, you can outsmart your competition and market share will come your way. As you tighten your belt, engage your people in looking at ways to serve the customer during the downturns. Encourage your team to find ways to increase value, or the perception of value, with every customer and in any way they can.

How you lead during tough times says a great deal about you and your company’s culture.

David Harding is president and CEO of HardingPoorman Group, a locally owned and operated graphic communications firm in Indianapolis consisting of several integrated companies all under one roof. The company has been voted as one of the “Best Places to Work” in Indiana by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Harding can be reached at [email protected] For more information, go to www.hardingpoorman.com