6 Tips From Adversity Experts for Leading in Tough Times

“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”

 — Walt Disney

In our world, change is constant and crisis is inevitable. But how we respond to change and crisis is not. What we do when the tide turns negative has more impact on our future outcomes than the event itself. Some companies crumble and fail in crisis while others come out stronger. 

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a small business owner, team manager, or a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. One day, you will face uncertainty. You might feel a need to take sudden action and try lots of new things right away—which could make things worse. However, there’s no need to panic. Here are six things crisis and change management experts suggest you can do to lead and build trust in times when the situation is dire and constantly changing.

Put people first.

Organizational change expert Jim Hemerling suggests companies and leaders who want to survive crisis put their people first. Confident leaders in crisis make an effort to listen to their people’s ideas, focus on their people’s strengths, and be transparent about the circumstances affecting the company.

Listen and learn.

In-Extremis leadership expert Thomas Kolditz says crisis is a learning time. Listen to people and learn more about the situation first before taking action. Before trying to solve the problem, gather facts (both good and bad), listen to voices from all levels of your company, and seek counsel from experts.


Perseverance and staying the course in tough times is a hard quality for a leader to master. When everyone around you is demanding you “do something,” sometimes the best thing to do is nothing. Remember, all success stories are built around leaders and organizations who kept going, never giving up, when all seemed bleak. 


On the other hand, sometimes you need to adapt your plan when disaster strikes and abandon your current goals. Adversity experts suggest leaders and employees embrace change by creating new goals based on the circumstances. For example, when US automobile companies fell behind in the face of competition from Japan, they didn’t adapt to more fuel efficient cars because that wasn’t part of their plan. Meanwhile, companies like Apple decided they weren’t just a computer company and went into music and phones and thrived, constantly adapting to new circumstances.

Follow your values.

Sticking to your purpose and values is never more important than in a crisis. Leaders who take principled actions even when information is ambiguous are respected, supported, and trusted by those who follow them. Change expert Hemmerling suggests leaders can also use their values to connect their employees to a deeper sense of purpose, which will propel them through hard times.

Take responsibility.

Finally, leaders need to take responsibility. When crisis strikes, leaders cannot shrug off the consequences and say it wasn’t their fault. They need to step up and shoulder the responsibility for moving ahead to instill confidence in their followers.

For More Advice Also See

Finding Growth Opportunities in Times of Adversity

Use Your Emotional Intelligence to Perform Under Pressure

5 Ways to Boost Your Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Exercises You Can do for Two Minutes A Day to Immediately Feel Happier

Kyle Crocco is the Chief Creative at BigSpeak Speakers Bureau, a UC Santa Barbara graduate, and lead singer of Duh Professors. He regularly publishes business book reviews, personal development insights, and thought-leadership articles on MediumBusiness 2 Community, and Born 2 Invest.