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When the going gets tough, winners get support

Conditions in many markets are challenging. Growth is hard to find, margins are being squeezed and fundamentals are being thrown up in the air. The commercial world is demanding change.

Leaders have more and more demands on their time: analysis, diagnostics, reports of why targets aren’t being hit. A constant raft of decisions that need to be made NOW! You’re operating under pressure and ambiguity, often trusting your gut feel, hoping that activity will deliver and things will calm down soon. This is the new normal.

So, what can you do about it?

There are many possible responses: burn the candle at both ends and try to do it all; withdraw and order your people to sort it out; order myriad reports to ‘help understand the situation’ (analysis paralysis); tell everyone to trust you and proclaim decisions with no real knowledge – letting your ego run wild.

All the above are driven by insecurity. Leaders who don’t know what is the ‘right’ approach, and are uncomfortable with the ambiguity. And quotes like “cometh the hour, cometh the man (or woman)” and “when the going gets tough….” don’t help.

What’s often discounted is the value of support. From personal experience, I know that support from others is most valuable in hard times. Be it a mentor, coach, expert, boss or your team; others usually want to help – so why not ask?

Well, we are conditioned that strength is a virtue, so we try to do it all. Stories are told about heroes and leaders coming to the fore in tough times and society perpetuates this view which feeds our egos. And we feel we should be able to face the challenge alone.

But think about it: heroes often have support – there were four musketeers, Luke had Han/Leia/etc., Batman had Robin. Even the best of us need support, especially when times are tough.


The first thing is to recognize that things are getting out of control. The earlier the better. See and hear the signs that you aren’t at your peak, and be open to what others are saying to try and help you.


Where is it that you could do with help? You probably know your strengths and weaknesses. Which do you need to augment? Is it just that you need someone to bounce ideas off of, or do you need reassurance? “A problem shared is a problem halved” is a valuable truism here.


You may know who will be the best person to help you; if so, go and ask. People like to be asked for help. It makes them feel valued and gives them satisfaction. If you aren’t sure about what you need then talk to those who may have been in this situation before – or are in it now. They may be able to recommend an expert: a coach or situation guru.


You’re probably not looking for long-term development – you want solutions. Your supporter should help you understand the current situation: break down the core issues, assist in clarifying objectives, build a plan that focuses on a few key areas and actions, and finally how to engage the wider team so you face your challenge together.


It’s amazing the confidence and calm that can result from such support. And your thinking returns to its productive best. Rather than that ego-driven brashness that people see right through, people will see your inner confidence, that you have a plan and support behind you.


We all know that during times of intensity, working on your own challenges can yield the greatest learning; however, it needn’t be through making mistakes. With support, you are likely to make less mistakes, be more balanced and take in the learning as you go.

Long Term

With a more balanced mindset you can keep your long-term goals in mind. You don’t want to veer off on a path that solves the short-term issue, only to spend a lot of time and effort getting back on track later. Deliver the short term, feed the long term.

Speaking with leaders across organizations this year I have seen many in this situation. The demands are high and asking for help is difficult. But it’s only difficult in your own mind. Most people see the ability to seek support as a strength. And you might be surprised by how much help you receive when you do admit you don’t know all the answers.

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