In this challenging business environment, there is more pressure than ever on leaders to deliver results. At these times, when it can be difficult to extract additional revenue from the market, your key opportunities often lie with getting the very best from your people.

The purpose of this short article is to remind you of the leadership approach that will most positively impact staff performance and results, in a challenging market. When businesses are operating in a challenging environment, a number of events and interactions occur that can have a demotivating impact on staff. This can be anything from the email refusing an expenditure request through to the departure of a close colleague.

It is not about eliminating these events because you can’t; it’s about doing what you can help staff feel good about their work, about the organisation and the fact that they are valued. The more engaged, motivated and valued your team feel, the more discretionary effort they apply. Their improved attitude and effort can make a significant difference at both a cultural and results level. Here are some key elements of your leadership that are crucial to getting the best from people in a downturn:


Be aware of how you are managing any pressure and stress, and how this impacts your people. Use pressure to have a positive impact on individuals and morale.


When people are working hard, being challenged, and not always getting the results they want, it is important for many that you take the time to listen, understand and show them you care.

Honest communication

Be as honest as possible with people about the environment, your expectations and with any feedback you have for them. Where possible, deliver significant good or bad news face to face or by phone, rather than using email.

Celebrate performance and wins

In a growth market, focussing entirely on success and results can be enough. In challenging times you need to focus on work ethic and performance as well, and acknowledge and celebrate good performance “you have worked hard on this account…drinks are on me Friday night to say thanks”.

‘We’ vs. ‘You’

Make sure that your words and behaviours show you are in this together. People respond in tough times by knowing they have your support and that ‘we’ will to some extent share any pain and gain.

Challenging markets are times when there is significant opportunity to obtain a competitive advantage, and the most efficient way to achieve this is by getting the best from your people. Take the time to understand whether they feel valued, motivated and engaged. If not, address this, and it will pay dividends for you, them and the company.

Kevin McMahon is a New Zealand leadership coach, consultant and change agent at Step Shift. 

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