The role of being a leader is desired by many yet deeply understood by few.

What Does it Mean to be a Leader?

Shouldering the criticism and facing expressions of frustration, during times of difficulty, is clearly an expectation of the role. As humans, there are very few of us who relish negativity being directed towards our person.

There are fewer still who weather such criticism time and again, and show up the next day prepared to serve. It can be even more frustrating when the cause of the negativity and subsequent challenges have little or nothing to do with the past performance of the leader or their decisions.

“Sometimes the tornado just comes down your street”, were the profound words of a wise businessperson who had survived and prospered through several such events.

The message is that you are not always in control of events, is clearly made. As a leader it is, however, vital that the problem is faced, a plan is created, a direction is set, the truth is told, hope is provided, and action is taken to provide for those we lead and to ensure the future of the entity we serve.

This must happen regardless of how we might be feeling as an individual. This is the role of a leader.

Finding the Edges and Corners

There is a modicum of comfort, for all involved, that is derived from actually knowing the full extent of a difficult situation.

No matter how bad, being able to get our “arms around” whatever one is facing, is often cathartic for the successful leader.

It allows them to progress from reactive leadership moves to proactive leadership steps.

A greater share of frustration will find its way toward the leader when the problem still resides in the place of not being fully understood.

As a leader, one of our first tasks after speaking the truth and providing hope is to help those we lead participate meaningfully in “finding the edges and the corners.”

Just as in constructing a puzzle, once the challenge is “framed” the work takes on a perception of being more manageable. This step also allows the team members to better perceive the extent of the problem’s impact.

Being a leader in such a situation means stepping into the challenge early. It involves “going to the pressure”, facing the threat, and accepting that this will involve a great deal of personal discomfort.

In such unforeseen situations, prevarication and avoidance are simply not options. Disasters do not fix themselves.

Regardless of the personal feelings of hurt, loss, or frustration a leader may be experiencing, the team must perceive the leader as applying thoughtful leadership and focused steps toward intervention. To make the point more direct; there will be time later to consider one’s personal feelings towards the problem.

Providing Grace, Help, and Forgiveness

Uncertainty and threats to career and livelihood often cause team members to behave in ways that do not show their best selves. Lacking a specific target for their frustration, the focus of their anger can reside locally with the person who serves them regularly. While this may be unfair, it is a reality that leaders must be prepared to face.

In addition, accepting the frustration of the team members, continuing to serve them, and moving forward in the future granting those who behaved poorly, grace for their departure from established norms and values, is an expectation of a leader.

There is simply no place in effective leadership for grudges or hard feelings. The settling of scores or reaction to perceived slights during a crisis is not a message of strength to those one leads; in fact, it is quite the opposite. Vindictive behavior on the part of the leader is actually unsettling to the organization and undermines the values and norms that have been in place.

For the business to thrive following such an event, it is the task of the leader to assist the team members, on both personal and professional levels, back to the place where they can bring their best efforts. Forgiveness will be a powerful tool for the leader in such circumstances.

Having rumors and hurtful comments directed one’s way is never pleasant. Becoming a social media target for the uninformed and conspiracy theorists is an occupational hazard for those who step up to lead. In the moments when the weight of leadership can feel very personal, it is important to remember that what we feel personally will not serve us well when our leadership is required.

Moving beyond the personal feelings and directing our strength and energy toward serving the team is where the greatest return is to be found. In times of crisis, teams need their leader!

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