I’ve been saying it for a while now, but the connected world is moving faster than ever. The speed of relationships, business, communication, and information continues to accelerate as we struggle to keep up.

For every leader, learning to navigate that breakneck pace is essential.

For many leaders, it is also quite challenging.

That’s because change is challenging. I’ve said for years that nobody likes change unless change is their idea, and that’s especially true for leaders. When we’re at the front of the change, encouraging others to join us on the journey, we often feel alive and in our sweet spot.

But when the change comes at us? That’s a different ballgame.

Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” While Mike isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, his observation is no less insightful for us as leaders: we can be great at making plans, but how will we respond when things go awry?

What can we do to effectively navigate challenges when they come our way?

Here are five fast rules for leaders navigating challenges:

  1. Mind Your Mindset. Many times, we struggle when challenges come our way because we don’t know what the outcome will be, and human nature can lead us to some dark places when that happens. Remember that within every challenge is an opportunity—so look for the opportunity. Leaders must master their mindset in order to navigate challenges successfully.
  2. Define Your Reality. Max DuPree said that the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. Reality is the combination of circumstances and resources, and a leader must know what they have to work with before they can know how to work. Take a moment to understand what’s going on around you and identify the people, skills, and talents you have at your disposal. Once you know where you are, you can move on to the next rule.
  3. Choose Your Course. After you’ve adjusted your mindset and defined where you are, you must decide where you want to end up when the challenge passes. This is more than casting a vision—it’s establishing a strategy for getting through the rough times and ending up somewhere that will help you and your people. Too many leaders set their course for “survival” when they could set the course for “growth” or “improvement.” Choose something more than just getting through the difficulty.
  4. Adjust Your Sails. You know where you want to go, so do what you need to do to get there. Don’t be afraid to ask your team to stretch for a season, or make a significant, lasting change, if that’s what it will take to land where you want. Navigating challenges requires action, so be willing to make the necessary moves.
  5. Remember Your Victories. This may seem out of place, but challenges often take time. I remember as a young leader that one of my worst habits was overestimating my ability to navigate change; I thought I could get through things faster and at a smaller cost than what common sense said was possible. The resulting setbacks would throw me, and it was in those moments that I had to remember previous wins in order to stay strong. Hold those positive memories up as powerful examples for your team—it’s the light they’ll need in those dark moments before the sun shines again.

No leader is immune to the challenges that come our way. We all deal with unforeseen situations or circumstances, especially when our situations and circumstances change as quickly as they do these days. The key to growing through those challenges is to be prepared to lead when they come.

Fast is faster, and forward is shorter. But navigating through that reality is the leader’s responsibility.


  1. […] Five Fast Rules for Leaders Navigating Challenges […]

    • Mary Lou tringali on September 15, 2019 at 12:06 pm

      Thank you! I used excerpts of your books for my references in my dissertation for my doctorate in management!

  2. Ashera Gustave on September 11, 2019 at 7:27 am

    Looking forward to venture on this journey…

    • Jochen Kiel on September 15, 2019 at 9:57 am

      I really Enjoy the Blog and learn so much!!!!!
      I Live in Germany and I am totally Excited that I can participate free you charge. Thank you very much. you are a real blessing!! And you multiple your Deep Knowledge and experience in Germany. If you want I could be your ambassador!
      My Job is Job Coach for unemployed and I really Love my work. I can use your teachings and Material in my Daily work. It is a tremendous help.
      Best regards
      Jochen Kiel
      Jahnstr 26
      28816 Stuhr / Germany
      +49 173 623 5034
      E-Mail: jochenkiel@gmx.de

  3. Joanne Owens on September 11, 2019 at 10:44 am

    My team asked yesterday if we speak each morning as your minutes and blogs seem to line up exactly to what our stand up meeting was about! Thanks for all you do for all of us.

  4. Patty Dreier on September 11, 2019 at 3:23 pm

    John, Thanks for this content. Did you already read the book I’m writing? It sure seems like you did and my book for young adults to become empowered to stand up for themselves on social and environmental issues isn’t published yet! It’s coming this fall. Appreciate all you do to inspire us to reach higher. Always.

  5. Chuks Diribe on September 12, 2019 at 2:49 pm

    This is truly awesome. I didn’t want to stop reading. I just need to internalise the points start applying them to my life, work, and everything else as quick as possible.
    Thank you ones again, Dr. John.

  6. Abiola Ayilara on September 13, 2019 at 8:33 am

    10 years ago I wrote down what I need to have achieved presently and gladly all the boxes were ticked through sweat, tenacity, struggle, pain, tears and joy at the end. I’m looking forward to the next ten years and your insight in this context just jumpstart my brain to realise that change is inevitable, my previous wins Is a fuel for my coming victories and I’m blessed to have read this right up.. thank you grandpa!!!

  7. Pastor Cheryel Ann Gunn on September 13, 2019 at 5:58 pm

    Truth rings loudly from these words. Leaders must be ready for change according to the word of God. God is doing a new thing. Is it God’s will in the direction of the change therefore, Yes and many hurdles were won and accomplished. Thankyou for the encouraging words of direction.

  8. Richard Takpa on September 16, 2019 at 11:49 am

    This content just put me back on my feet again. Change is friendly, change is dynamic. Just need to stay on course because it’s a resource to a new end.
    Very inspiring, thanks.

  9. Friday Tom Ekpo on September 16, 2019 at 2:19 pm

    Immense thanks for broadening minds around the world. I really need to read more of your work henceforth as this seems to make me a great leader indeed.
    Hopefully I should recommend this gestures to many of my peers as the good news continue to spread.
    More grease to your elbow, Dr John.

  10. Yvette Harrison on September 16, 2019 at 4:12 pm

    Thank you so much for saying this out loud! Well…sort of!
    Change happens and the more resilient we are when it hits us the better we will be in the long run. I embrace change because it certainly never makes things boring and if you don’t like it, it doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t go back. Change is like a kid and broccoli….they may say they don’t like it but they will never know until they try it!
    Change can be a good thing!

  11. It’s All In Your Head – Marie Elizabeth on September 14, 2020 at 3:16 pm

    […] Within every challenge lies an opportunity. […]

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.