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Leadership During Difficult Times: The Trust Factor

Leadership During Difficult Times: The Trust Factor

Layoffs are in the headlines again, and economists can’t decide if the economy is headed for a recession or not.

In the tech industry, some of the layoffs have garnered headlines because of the way in which they have occurred. Employees have learned of company updates via social media postings from a CEO, and mass emails impersonally tell people their job has been eliminated. The new CEO was working to rein in payroll expenses that had become overly bloated, and practices which had gone beyond the promise of an unbiased platform. Even so, the layoffs were quick and stinging for the employees. Another large tech company that had grown for 20 years and touted its feeling of family (Ohana in the Hawaiian culture), recently broke up the family with large layoffs.

No wonder some tech employees have soured on their once favorable jobs and are disgruntled with their treatment. The public social media posts of those exiting tell a story of broken trust.

Of course, in the startup phase, working for a tech company was an exciting ride. One CEO shared about the excitement of tech startup life in almost religious terms:

Startups encourage creativity, individualism and are void of hierarchy. Those who work in startups are some of the most talented people in their respective fields, and they're there because they want to build something of value. It's not just a job for those who work at startups; it's a mission.

So, what happens between the glory days of a new vision or mission, and a leadership crisis?

We have all watched these trends in public companies, but let’s bring the topic home.

How do you, as a Christian leader, continue to lead well in difficult times? Whether you are leading a church, educational institution, nonprofit, or marketplace company, there will come a time when you face a crisis. It may be budget cuts, layoffs, leadership failure, natural disaster, pandemic, or another issue. And how can you build a foundation in your leadership that will get your team through a difficult situation?

Inspirational Leadership

Inspirational Leadership is one of the eight flourish factors that Best Christian Workplaces has identified as key in employee engagement and essential for a thriving workplace. Character and competency are core attributes of an inspirational leader. Over time, trust grows in a workplace that is led by inspirational leaders. A strong foundation of trust can carry an organization through a difficult season.

When leaders are inspirational, they:

  • Demonstrate spiritual maturity and a growing, deepening personal relationship with Christ
  • Are perceived as direct, truthful, reliable and consistent - trustworthy
  • Show genuine care and compassion for employees
  • Objectively make decisions in the best interest of the organization
  • Maintain a healthy balance in relationship with employees
  • Effectively steward people and resources
  • Set clear goals for individuals and for the organization
  • Cultivate a team environment
  • Clearly communicate with others
  • Are self-aware and emotionally intelligent

Learn more about Inspirational Leadership by downloading the Flourish Guide.

Facing a Crisis

As a leader, your responsibility is to steward the mission and vision of the organization you are leading, through good seasons and hard seasons. Yes, the people matter, and your response to a crisis will include care for your people. But the first responsibility of a leader is to wear the organizational mantle. You have to make objective decisions, based on the information you and your leadership team can gather, that steward the future of the organization through the crisis.

Once you and your senior team decides on an organizational response to the crisis, then communication is key.

  • Truthful and Direct: While it may be tempting to sugarcoat any bad news you have to share with your staff, now is the time for truthful and direct communication. People don’t want to hear vague platitudes. You are sharing bad news, but you need to allow your people to understand the magnitude of the issue your organization is facing. If you have always been truthful in the past, then even with the hard truth, there is a foundation of trust.
  • Compassion and Care: Your staff is a community of people. In times of crisis, they want to see you treat them with dignity. They want to know that these hard decisions are painful for you to make and that you respect and value them as people who are created in God’s image.
  • Next Steps: When you are in the midst of a crisis, you may not know what next steps you can lay out for your organization and people. But you can share a timeline and process. “The senior team is working on what this means for day-to-day operations. We will be sharing a plan in (timeframe).” Rebuilding trust and relationship with your staff should be part of how the leadership team plans next steps.
  • Invite your staff to be part of the solution: While your senior leadership team needs to own the crisis and implications, consider ways to invite two-way communication and idea sharing from your staff. They are part of your vision and mission going forward, and they may see possibilities that are not visible from your vantage point.

Before the Crisis

When you face a leadership crisis on your watch, you will have much stronger footing if you already have a foundation of trust built and a solid track record of inspirational leadership. Everything you have invested in building an effective senior leadership team with character and competency will be tested during a difficult season. Also, all the ways you have fostered a healthy workplace culture with attributes such as healthy communication and fantastic teams, will provide a framework for continued positive interactions in your organization.

Next Steps

Focus on building a flourishing workplace now, so you have already built a reputation for inspirational leadership and healthy communication before a crisis hits.

Not sure the current health of your workplace? A Best Christian Workplaces Employee Engagement Survey can help you assess where your organization stands with all eight flourish factors (two of which are inspirational leadership and healthy communication). You will get insight into what your employees think and feel, you will be able to work with a BCW consultant for a customized roadmap to improve any factors that score low in your survey.

Best Christian Workplaces has several resources that will help you in next steps if you are in a difficult situation now, or rebuilding from a recent crisis: