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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.