Why the Best Leaders Look at Challenges as Opportunities

Business challenge and risk concept

Overcoming complex challenges can be tough. You’ll have moments when you feel your only option is to give up. Doubt, stress, and obstacles can come in intense waves. Challenges, especially as a leader, are a journey with many steep mountains. 

But if you want to be a successful leader- the sort you were created to be, it requires looking at challenges as opportunities. Because the best leaders know challenges are opportunities wrapped in ugly wrapping paper. 

The best leaders know challenges are opportunities wrapped in ugly wrapping paper. 

To take this idea even a step further, approach challenges not as something you have to deal with, not even as something you get to deal with, but as something you choose to solve. 

In research by LearnLoft, we have found that there are a set of common challenges that leaders face regardless of industry. While they are typically described differently with varying symptoms and players, the root of the issues remains the same. These eight challenges are faced by middle to upper managers pretty uniformly. 

So what are these opportunities wrapped up as challenges in ugly wrapping paper?

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1. Inspiring Others

This challenge is number one because inspiration is the core difference between managers and leaders. Managers use authority and titles to demand behavior while leaders inspire action. 

2. Redefining Culture 

Another challenge facing leaders today is redefining their culture amidst remote & hybrid work. Redefining and maintaining an elite culture is difficult but ultimately attainable. 

3. Meeting the Needs of Team Members

The challenge of consistently trying to meet every team member’s needs and expectations is wildly complicated. If that weren’t enough, the number of direct reports leaders now are responsible for has increased by 25% or more on average. This means devoting adequate time to more people is hard. 

4. Enabling Change

The challenge of opening people’s hearts and minds to different ways of thinking and behaving than they are previously accustomed to is difficult because we are wired to resist change. However, every industry is in a state of transformation, so change is required to stay ahead or advance past the competition. 

5. Developing Skills

Whitney Johnson, Author of Smart Growth, highlighted developing people as a significant leadership challenge. She told me, “People want to grow. They want more because the Great Resignation is really the Great Aspiration. Leaders have the humility to grow themselves to grow their people.” There is nothing easy about coaching skills and creating new opportunities for people to develop. If this is a struggle for you, check out the upcoming Coaching for Excellence workshop. 

6. Recruiting Talent

The challenge of recruiting talented people is evergreen. However, there isn’t a leader I have coached or trained in the last twelve months that isn’t concerned with recruiting more than they used to be. The labor shortage has hit nearly every industry.

7. Creating an Excellent Team 

A challenge for any leader is to bond people together to accomplish more than they can on their own. A team, by definition, is a group of people that come together to achieve a common goal. While it might sound simple, it’s anything but, especially in remote work and mental health crises. 

8. Unlocking Elite Execution 

A significant opportunity for any leader is improving daily execution. Monte Peterson, Principle of CDA Group and expert in all things execution said it well, “For as much as people talk about execution and claim it as the reason their organization’s plan was met with failure for yet another year, it just proves that not many really understand it.” 

9. Avoiding Burnout 

The most emerging challenge facing leaders today is avoiding burnout in themselves and their team. There is immense pressure from the C-Suite to increase results faster. While speed is essential, it also causes burnout. 

When leaders solve these nine challenges they will have more fulfilled, engaged, and productive team members. 

How to Begin to Solve These Leadership Challenges

Solving some or all of these will require ongoing effort, strategy, and modifications. Here are a few solid ideas to help you in the short term. 

Earn Trust and Strengthen Relationships

Leadership has always been about relationships, but trust-based relationships are more important than ever. Remote and hybrid work has made it increasingly difficult to have authentic and genuine relationships built on the bond of mutual trust.  

Great leaders build authentic and genuine relationships built on the bond of mutual trust. 

In Building the Best, I wrote about a way to build trust called “The Trust Compound Theory.” This means you get the opportunity to develop stronger bonds of mutual trust by sharing your competence, showing you care, and exposing your character. 

Empower Others to Solve Problems

You will solve more problems and overcome challenges faster and more effectively if you empower others to make decisions. The word empower means “to give control over another’s life and the authority to do something.” So often, managers do the opposite of empowering. They micromanage when challenges arise. 

Suppose you want to get better at empowering your people and inviting them into the problem-solving process. In that case, it starts with making them aware that solving problems is a part of their job responsibility regardless of their title. 

Make team members aware that solving problems is a part of their job responsibility regardless of their title. 

Come up with a Maximizing Mantra for the Year

There will always be priorities and market changes that grasp your people’s attention. With as fast as the business world is moving, we are past the point of being able to have a one-item execution list. 

However, you can create a maximizing mantra to create consistent energy on a team or company. A Maximizing Manta is a short and simple phrase that provides clarity, is action-oriented, and is fun. A few of my favorite examples include:

  • Let’s Go
  • Move the Needle
  • Row the Boat

When you or your team come up with a Mantra for the rest of this year, please put it on walls, T-shirts, or slack channels. Use it to keep it in the forefront of your people’s eyes and hearts. 

Recommit to Core Values 

Take a lesson from Meta’s CEO, Mark Zuckerburg. After two decades of running one of the largest tech companies in the world, they have reset and added new core values to help prepare for a more distributed, more honest, and faster future. 

On a recent episode of the Tim Ferris Podcast, Zuckerberg said, “One of the things that I’ve always found is you can … get an organization and a team through almost any challenge as long as you can maintain good cohesion.”

He outlined five refreshed core values and precisely what they meant to him and his team at Meta. 

Reward and Recognize Effort

One of the biggest reasons teams consistently face the same challenges is because leaders are too critical of their team. Instead of encouraging them to persevere and looking for new and better ways to solve problems, they judge.  

People tend to shut down and give less than their maximum effort when this happens. While there are places for critical feedback and tough conversations, more leaders must start rewarding and recognizing the positive effort team members demonstrate daily. 

Leaders must start rewarding and recognizing the positive effort team members demonstrate daily. 

A great trick for this is to give at least three positive comments to every critical one.  

Closing

If there has ever been a time to turn challenges into opportunities, it’s right now.  

It’s my hope these strategies will help you turn your team or organization run toward these opportunities because that’s precisely what the best do.  

Coaching for Excellence Workshop Ready to develop your coaching skills to help others reach their full potential? Learn more about Coaching for Excellence

Free Downloadable Coaching Cheatsheet There is nothing easy about coaching. So we put together a list of eight of the best coaching questions to help you. Download it for free here.

About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

Why You Must Be Resilient to Be a Successful Leader

Purple pansy growing out of the concrete pavement stone crack overcoming all odds.

Do you remember how it felt the last time you or your team achieved something meaningful? Whether you received an award on stage or it showed up in the bank account, chances are, you felt pride and a natural high.  

While those feelings are wonderful, have you ever stopped to think about the key ingredients that helped you get there? There is a good chance talent, timing, coaching, and teammates had a lot to do with it. However, without the skill of resilience, your ultimate success would never have happened. 

Take Owen, a young entrepreneur, for example. When he first set out to solve the problem of reducing turnover in young professionals through software and coaching, he was flush with passion and excitement. 

At first, everything looked up as he successfully raised money, hired his first five team members, and acquired an initial round of customers. However, quickly those early wins turned into significant losses. The software failed, customers got disgruntled, and the promised results weren’t coming to fruition. 

So Owen did the opposite of what he should have done. He blamed his team members, complained about his customers, and eventually folded up shop. The result was unhappy investors, lost jobs, and a talented professional who believed he wasn’t worthy of success. 

One of the main reasons these negative outcomes happened was because Owen and his team hadn’t developed the skill of resilience.

What is Resilience?  

Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties and demonstrate toughness. By itself, resilience is dynamic because one can have more or less of it in different situations. Resilience enables people to continue learning and adapting to overcome challenging situations. 

Resilience enables leaders and teams to learn and adapt to overcome challenging situations.

Those professionals lacking resilience get easily overwhelmed, flustered, and often have worse outcomes. While negative results alone should drive you to be more resilient, most people choose not to be out of bad habits and faulty thinking. 

People can get better at being more resilient because it’s a skill. It is a way of thinking and behaving that’s developed gradually through experience and often unlearning what bad parents or bad bosses have taught us. 

Resilience is a way of thinking and behaving that is developed gradually through experience and often unlearning what bad parents or bad bosses have taught us. 

Resilience is a way of thinking and behaving that is developed gradually through experience and often unlearning what bad parents or bad bosses have taught us.

The Makeup of Resilient Leaders

Researchers have identified the leadership skills that build a team’s capacity to take risks and bounce back from setbacks. They found that leaders who encourage employees to learn on the job and listen when they voice their ideas for change build team resilience and effectiveness.

Beyond listening and encouraging team members, I have found that there tend to be four essential elements that allow leaders to demonstrate resilience.

  1. Responsibility
  2. Confidence
  3. Emotional Intelligence
  4. Competence

When leaders take ownership of challenges happening in their world (responsibility), have an internal belief in themselves (confidence), get their emotions to work for them and not against them (emotional intelligence), and can do something successfully or efficiently (competence), resilience comes out naturally. 

If you see some of these elements in yourself, or you find yourself falling into the same pattern of thinking as Owen, here’s what you can do to develop the skill of resilience further.

1. Remind Yourself to Be Resilient Daily

Life is difficult, which means work is challenging. You can accept this or get aggravated, but you cannot change it. The mistake professionals make is that we believe work should be easy and that our professional and personal lives would be happier if it were. 

The problem isn’t that work is difficult. It’s supposed to be. As I tell leaders in the Coaching for Excellence Workshop, “If coaching were easy, everyone would be doing it.” Suppose this wasn’t enough—the more important work you are doing, the more resistance you will encounter pursuing it. So work in whatever capacity you do it proposes a series of problems and dilemmas. How we respond to these events determines the direction of professional journeys.  

The more important things are, the more resistance you encounter pursuing them.

Your job will be to remind yourself daily to be resilient. Find a mechanism like a rubber band on your wrist or a say to yourself when adversity hits, “The only way is through.” 

If you lead a team, it’s your job to remind teammates that they can become more resilient, and you can help them do this by creating a supportive and problem-solving culture.  

2. Take Maximum Responsibility 

The culture we live and work in today has leaders who teach us to reject responsibility. To blame someone else instead of taking personal responsibility. While there are many things out of your control, the best leaders always take responsibility.

Responsibility is the state or fact of being accountable for something. I wish in the dictionary they would make the primary synonym of responsibility, leadership. A great way to think about this is leaders either created the problem, contributed to the problem, or tolerated the problem.

Leaders either created the problem, contributed to the problem, or tolerated the problem.

When you take maximum responsibility, you are decisive, solve problems, abstain from placing blame, and look at your actions to improve the situation. There is nothing easy about this, but you do it without thinking once you master it through your mental habits. 

3. Take One Step Towards Improvement

When leaders are at their best, they are getting a little bit better every day. The aggregation of marginal gains (1% rule) was made famous by British cycling coach David Brailsford. To be more resilient, you have to take one step towards improving every day. 

In her new book Smart Growth, Whitney Johnson said, “Grow or don’t grow. You choose.” The power that is in these words is unrelentin. Can you or your team take one step toward improvement? Is there one thing you can do today that will make the challenges you are up against better tomorrow?

It is ok to delay gratification, embrace reality, and release the illusion that you should have it all figured out in a day. Commit to taking one step at a time and advance forward. 

Closing

Some enormous challenges and crises are going on in the world and in your workplace right now. What I want you to remember is no crisis is insurmountable. In contrast, this doesn’t mean the outcome you wish will happen on the timeline you desire. However, it certainly won’t happen if you give up and don’t choose to be resilient.  

If you remind yourself to be resilient daily, take maximum responsibility and take one step towards improvement, you will be on your way to modeling what the best leaders do, demonstrating the skill of resilience.  

Free Downloadable Coaching Cheatsheet There is nothing easy about coaching. So we put together a list of eight of the best coaching questions to help you. Download it for free here.

John’s New Book John is finishing a brand new fable story about leadership and looking for volunteers to read or listen to the first four chapters and provide feedback.  By doing so, you will be entered to win a free signed it’s when it’s released.  If you are open to help, sign up here.

About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.