What kind of leadership is needed in challenging times?


The tough economic times are now making themselves felt in Finland's business environment. Statistics Finland also recently reported that the number of bankruptcy filings and business reorganisations has continued to rise, so more and more business leaders are facing a challenging situation - how to cope with the tough economic pressures and deal with change while taking human factors into account.

The basic job of managers is to try to keep the business running and the business productive. A mentally healthy manager faces difficulties, sleepless nights and decisions that he or she would rather not make, but must make.

– Difficult situations are like sailing in a fog. Familiar landscapes look strange and the going is uncertain. Leading through a crisis therefore requires clarity and clear thinking. It is important to focus on which decisions need to be taken carefully and which ones need to be taken very quickly. Both are definitely needed, says Sami Råman, an organisational psychologist at Terveystalo.

The three rules: listen, discuss, work together

In difficult times, the basics become more important. Uncertainty creates a lot of tension and can cause managers and employees to retreat a little into their shells to protect their own turf. This reduces openness and communication.

– Leaders should actively concentrate on building two-way communication and creating opportunities to structure the future prospects of the company together. It is very typical that when a leader becomes too distant, informal leaders emerge from the group, who are trusted and given the mantle of saviour. In reality, this is even more disruptive, says Råman.

For many, gloomy economic news can bring back memories of similar experiences in the past. If you haven't dealt with them before, your ability to cope with change can be impaired. But it is not the job of a manager to heal the traumas of his or her employees. The manager should focus on his or her basic task of ensuring business continuity. But if bankruptcy is on the horizon, it is important to explain what that means in practice and how to proceed.

Every adult human being understands that in almost every business there are happy times and painful times. Leaders need to increase communication and be in their own faces and in their own words to tell the truth about what is happening and what is most important right now. Zero information is also particularly important; telling people that the situation hasn't changed since last week, Råman reminds.

Nothing bad lasts forever any more than good

In the midst of change, it is important to remain positive and to have faith in the future to avoid cynicism. According to Råman, genuine positivity is about acknowledging the facts.

The worst thing is positivity glued on top of it, or empty "yes, it's going to be OK" statements. Paradoxically, positivity can also be about recognising that the situation really sucks. The role of leaders is to help the work community focus on how to get back on the winning track and articulate the meaning of work; why we exist and who we help.

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