CEO of DeskTime—a time tracking and productivity app for companies and freelancers. He’s also an amateur athlete and father of two.
Running a company means leading it through a lot of uncertainties—from internal turmoil to global economic turbulence, rapid technological change and whatnot.
The question is: How can you be an effective leader in such times?
Here are three lessons learned from my 10-plus years of experience running a company that has survived it all—from poor business decisions and internal culture crises to Covid-19 and more.
1. Transparency is key, but oversharing is a mood killer.
In times of uncertainty, I’ve found transparency is essential for effective leadership. Keeping your team informed about what’s happening, what challenges the company is facing, and how you’re planning to move forward is crucial to building trust and alleviating some of the anxiety your team is probably experiencing.
If there’s a lack of open communication, there’s room for “gossip culture”—a company culture where rumors are part of employees’ everyday communication. This can lead to misunderstandings, a toxic work environment and difficulty leading the team toward a common goal since everyone relies on their own piece of distorted information.
That said, while openness is important, you should also remember there’s a fine line between being transparent and oversharing. Sharing too much information, especially if it’s not relevant or helpful, can overwhelm your team and create a sense of chaos.
In business, something unexpected happens every day. It doesn’t mean you have to burden your team with updates on every single detail. This can cause unnecessary stress, leading to decreased productivity and a negative atmosphere in the office. So, try to find the balance between transparency and discretion so that your team feels informed and empowered but not overloaded with unnecessary information.
2. Prioritize flexibility and be open to experiments.
Stubbornly trying to stick to what has “always worked”—especially when the world around us is changing—can push your company into an even deeper crisis. Thus, it’s important for you as a leader to approach new challenges with an open and flexible mindset—meaning, be willing to adapt and experiment with new approaches and ideas, even if they’re unfamiliar or uncomfortable at first.
There is research that illustrates why companies should encourage experiments, especially in times of uncertainty. When the world was hit by Covid-19, researchers analyzed 66 packaged food and drink entrepreneurs in Finland to see how they were dealing with the new challenges—from supply chain disruptions to new packaging requirements. They discovered those ventures that embraced experiments not only expanded their range of solutions but also experienced long-term benefits, including “increased capabilities for subsequent value creation.”
Cultivate the mindset of flexibility and encourage experiments. Even when things run smoothly, I suggest to support your employees who are willing to try out new things, even if these things look like a definite fail at first sight. At my company, this has paid off several times! For example, after a slow year in terms of sales, we decided in favor of a CMO-as-a-service instead of hiring someone in-house. Not only did it help us keep our costs low, but it also increased our revenue significantly in a record-short time.
3. Take care of your well-being to take care of your business.
Leadership can be demanding, especially during times of uncertainty, which often requires making difficult decisions—and doing so quickly. In such circumstances, it’s easy to fall into the trap of working long hours and sacrificing personal well-being to ensure that everything runs smoothly, all deadlines are met and more.
However, skipping breaks and working overtime can make you even more tired and stressed. As a result, you may miss important details, overlook alternative solutions and make hasty decisions that could have been avoided if you were well-rested and thinking clearly. And for the company and your team, that’s even worse than you taking time off. So prioritize taking breaks and leaving the office on time.
At my company, we’ve repeatedly proven that people who take regular breaks throughout the day are actually more productive than those who never leave their computers. We’ve also found that working long hours is actually useless. Our productivity drops dramatically after 8 hours of work. So, consistently staying late in the office is just a waste of time at the expense of rest.
In other words, even during the most challenging times, don’t forget to set boundaries and take care of yourself to be capable of leading effectively.
Running a company is never an easy task, but it’s extra challenging during turbulent times. Leading your team through periods of uncertainty requires extraordinary decision-making powers from you as a leader.
My experience as a CEO of a company that’s experienced countless ups and downs has taught me this: Obstacles are easier to overcome if you practice efficient communication, are open to new approaches and ideas, and, at the end of the day, don’t forget about self-care.
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