Into The Deep: Leadership Traits For Toxic Waters

December 3, 2010 — 5 Comments


Have you thought about the impact that you, as a leader, have in these toxic waters of economic downturn? Wise leaders are making the changes they need to make now so that they emerge better, stronger, and faster than ever – ready for the growth that will ultimately come. It is absolutely critical for those at the helm to be prepared to inspire and motivate those who remain onboard in order to emerge victorious. So what are some of the most important traits that a great Captain in this epic storm should embrace? Here are some reminders of what is important:

  • Lead By Example: Your people watch everything you do and listen to every word you say – then wait to ensure both are in alignment. The best way to lead and motivate is to be a real example of the way you expect others to behave. Be completely honest and as transparent as possible. Level with people – tell them how you see the current environment, acknowledge the limits of your own understanding, and engage the discussion by asking them for their views. Why? 1) your honesty and humility will breed respect and  2) your openness demonstrates that you walk the talk and 3) it clearly illustrates how together you are more than the sum of the individual parts.
  • Inspire Loyalty: The seas are rough, the water is toxic, and people fear being thrown overboard more than ever. It’s critical that they truly believe that you are on their side and supporting them. Create a vision that will make your teams see possibility and generate creative ideas. Inspire them to focus on the new priorities by doing so yourself – fearlessly. Engage decisions and projects that will produce incremental success so that people can visibly and viably see progress. Why? Because people need hope and they need to see progress – you can give them both and they will reward you with their loyalty. The more clear and vivid you can communicate a vision, the more your teams are bought into you and what may seem an impossible future  – show them the finish line and they will put up the sails and catch the wind.
  • Demonstrate A Real-Time Connection To Reality: Although today reality is a moving target, continuously monitoring the changing environment through ground-level intelligence can provide a realistic map to plot your way forward. Partnering to pool information across functions, or geographical boundaries, can provide useful insights and build camaraderie. As an added bonus, as you continue to gather information, the picture will change to reveal new opportunities or threats that can be proactively addressed. While the first order of a realistic assessment is to understand and accept the magnitude of the challenge, the fact is that there are few problems that can not be solved by engaged, active minds working together. Focus people on what is realistically possible, rather than what is not, and facilitate them searching for solutions that will move the organization forward.  As a leader, it is your responsibility to drive positive performance by transforming fear into action.
  • Manage With Intensity – Embrace Empowerment: Always remember to balance intensity with empowerment. Provide the training, resources and support your people need to do their jobs, but don’t micro-manage. It shows you don’t have faith in your people and demonstrates explicitly that you do not trust them. Tipping the scales back the other way, in difficult times your hands-on participation is essential. As you support people in doing their jobs, openly share and discuss information and ideas, and consistently act with the speed and intensity required in a volatile environment. You need to be intensely interactive  – listening, explaining, answering questions, pushing conversations to higher levels – and then doing it all again. People will be inspired by your intensity and involvement – not to mention seeing firsthand how you put reality on deck and engage them in a plan to address it decisively, as a team.

Facing the reality of surviving the current storm, while preparing for the long term effects of the toxicity,  requires a leader to constantly adjust – “X” no longer marks the spot.  Those leaders who look ahead, anticipate what’s coming,  and act decisively to adjust to an ever-changing reality will survive. Those leaders who lead by example, inspire loyalty, engage their teams, demonstrate a real-time connection to reality, and manage with intensity while embracing empowerment will not only survive the toxic waters – they will thrive in the new reality.

Please engage the discussion and let us know what traits you rely on to motivate and incite every person to think through and act on sustaining the organization. Please feel free to contact me at or by visiting our website at Check back next week for the next post on Leadership Across Boundaries and Borders.


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Sheri is The Global Coach, founder of Luminosity Global Consulting Group, Global Executive Coach, Speaker, Writer and Global Business and Cultural Expert.

5 responses to Into The Deep: Leadership Traits For Toxic Waters

  1. Good post. So true. Leaders share vision and give direction. If you have worked with a manager that lacked vision you understand how disheartening this can be. Developing and sharing a vision attracts loyal followers. Giving direction adds purpose to activities.

  2. Sheri,

    Timely, spot-on article for leaders who are ready to create their own rules and become not only built to last themselves, but also to develop companies who do as well …

    Thank you!

  3. Good evening Sheri,
    Thanks for your new spot-on article. Fully agree with Andy and Christina.
    But sorry to be a bore around Christmas time, you have outlined how things should be. Regretfully most of the economic strategies both on the private business side and on the offical (or public) side are based on very short-sighted calculations.

    Policians are happy to make a big noise of what they call ” long term plans” which in reality means their expected term of office 3, 4 or 5 yrs.
    The big long term (and costly) issues are forwarded to be dealt with a few years ahead.

    Look at the outcome of the latest UN enviromental summit in Mexico, presented as being a big success, but what did ” everybody” agree upon?
    A few small issues that does not really cost anybody so much to implement, the big and long term issues that will cost alot and can be impletated only after all parties putting in alot of hard work, were put ” on hold” to be sorted out in the years to come.
    The question is do we have that time?
    Can the big issues of changing of our life-style which causes alot of the wasteful use of raw materials, such as oil, and alot of rubbish and pollution to be poured out to the seas, the air and ground areas, in some cases polluting the scarce ground water / fresh water ( drinkable) supplies, wait to be adressed?
    Can our natural enviroment wait?
    Are people, especially World leaders, really so visionary as we hope, or expect them to be?

    Haven´t most of the improvements such as reduction of use of fuels, lower limits of exhausts etc come after tough limits laid down in new laws. That forces car makers, and other industries, to change their production and processes to meet the new limits, which they claimed to be impossible to reach, before the legistration was in force?

    Sheri, as I wrote above, your article outlines things as they should be. Not as how the systems work today.
    If only we could move away from the present short-sighted ecomonical guidelines (based on quarterly reports)then I think we can have a fair chance of working along your guidelines

    Bought a Christmas tree home earlier today, now decorated by the children and I am looking forward to some work-free days at home with the family.

    Wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. /Peter

    • Thanks for your insightful reply Peter. Your points are well taken and I do not disagree with you. The only real answer to moving things from what they are toward what they should be is… people. People who are leaders and are willing to step out and recognize what is required to actually change things – leaders who not only make the commitment to change, but honor the spirit of that change. Then, and only then, can a leader institute real and lasting change that will make a difference for the organization and everyone it affects… most of all changing themselves. Idealistic – perhaps, but also entirely plausible with the true desire to change the game…

      Have a wonderful New Years Peter – I hope you enjoy both your family and your time off! ~Sheri

  4. This is really helpful to be reminded that a leader has there responsibilities. You have covered a lot of ground here. I especially enjoyed the idea that loyalty is inspired by the leader. Inspiring and empowering people is the best part of being a leader.

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