We all know influential people who we look up to as leaders amongst our family, friends, and colleagues. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, but what traits do they have in common? What are their unique struggles, and how do they overcome their struggles? This guide looks at common leadership challenges, specifically in the workplace context. You’ll learn how to engage with your leadership team at work and how to adjust to your new role if you’re newly promoted to a management position.
What Makes A Good Leader?
The first step is to understand the qualities of a good leader. A leader is anyone who has a clear vision and knows how to mobilise others toward that vision. Therefore, good leaders possess the following traits:
- Confidence: They’re courageous and assertive, which enables others to follow their lead.
- Vision: They help others align their everyday tasks and short-term goals with the organisation’s objectives.
- Empathy: Leaders understand others’ strengths and weaknesses, helping them match their abilities to their ideal roles in the workplace.
- Delegation: They trust their teams can deliver based on their strengths and skills.
- Accountability: They keep their word, own their successes and failures, and hold others to the same standards.
- Creativity: Leaders appreciate all ideas and keep an open mind when brainstorming and problem-solving.
- Grit: They persevere through difficulties for the sake of long-term success.
- Compassion: They understand that external factors like personal or family struggles affect their team’s performance. Therefore, good leaders adjust their expectations reasonably to stay on track with work-related goals.
- Humility: Leaders give credit where it’s due and celebrate everyone’s successes, not just their own.
- Transparency: They share information and answer questions openly, giving teams a clear understanding of the overall vision.
- Integrity: They have strong moral values that guide everything they do rather than seeking motivation through self-interest.
What Is A Leadership Challenge?
Many leadership traits above don’t come naturally: leaders constantly learn, adapt, and often fail during their tenure. A leadership challenge is any issue a manager or leader faces and overcomes to keep their teams and businesses on the right track. Workplace leadership challenges take many forms, from employee disengagement to poor communication and budgeting.
Here are seven common challenges of leadership teams and solutions to help overcome them:
Seven Common Leadership Challenges
Effective leaders communicate clearly with their teams to share their vision, resolve conflicts, and inspire and motivate. Poor communication leads to low employee engagement, lack of focus, and poor credibility and trust. In contrast, effective communication keeps everyone on the same page, which is critical in fast-paced businesses.
One way to improve leadership communication is to schedule regular one-on-one meetings that establish a culture of honest feedback. This way, you ensure everyone on the team has the information they need to perform their tasks. You also ensure your team knows where to turn for guidance when challenges arise.
Yamini Rangan, CEO of HubSpot, has mastered the art of communication while leading HubSpot. She emphasised her communication style as being honest and nurturing. Communication is vital for HubSpot’s infrastructure and Rangan implemented new policies in response to staff feedback, including training to reduce burnout, no internal meetings on Fridays, and remote work options. Through communication and action, Rangan is proactive in maintaining connection, no matter where her employees are.
2. Conflict resolution
Conflicts are typical in every business, but leaders must handle them skillfully to avoid disruptions. According to a study by The Myers-Briggs Company, 85% of employees reported experiencing conflict in the workplace. In most cases, conflicts arise between leaders and their teams with new projects, new talent, and new policies. Good leadership establishes clear formal processes to resolve disputes, including whom to report to, how to meditate, and expected outcomes (disciplinary action, employee training, policy changes, etc.).
New challenges can arise with the recent rise of hybrid and remote work options. Employees with different working styles, communication styles, and even time zones can be a recipe for miscommunication if not managed well. Leaders having the proper procedures in place to resolve conflict and proactively prevent it from happening is vital.
Note that even though businesses encourage diversity, it’s also a common source of conflict. Leaders need the skills to resolve these issues without escalation or making their team uncomfortable.
3. Change management
Similar to conflicts, change is a constant in every organisation. Leaders must be on board the change first before guiding others to do the same. Change management, therefore, requires good communication and conflict-resolution skills. You must reassure your team that change is necessary to progress and address their uncertainties with compassion.
That said, change must be part of strategic planning to keep a business successful. Workplace leadership challenges significantly decrease if you have the correct change management strategy in your policies.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has fostered a culture of collaborative teamwork. When he took over the role of CEO in 2014, Microsoft’s strategy was to innovate to stay ahead of competition. Nadella moved the focus from competition to collaboration both internally and with external partners. He encouraged prioritising empathy first as a strategy with all employees. Nadella’s change management approach enabled Microsoft to pivot to cloud computing, AI, and other emerging technologies quickly, helping revitalise the company and drive sustained growth.
Leaders often must make difficult choices for the organisation’s health and success, even though those choices are unpopular or lead to conflicts. Doing the right thing is never easy but leads to long-term positive outcomes. In addition, leadership decisions have expected and unforeseen consequences that are often irreversible.
Warren Buffet, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, is known for his careful decision-making, steadfast and practical with business endeavors, leading to billions for Berkshire Hathaway and himself. Buffet achieves goals that compound over time. Indeed, small changes over a long period gain momentum and are incredibly effective in a business. His leadership methods are often criticised as too safe by fellow investors and competitors. Still, Buffet has mastered the art of sustainable growth at Berkshire Hathaway by setting clear and attainable goals while sticking by his business decisions, despite any pushback.
Decision-making is even more critical today with more organisations opting hybrid and remote work options. Cohesiveness stems from clarity; having leaders make firm decisions visible to all employees helps promote unity.
Great leaders accept the old saying, “Make your bed and lie in it.” They make the hardest decisions for their organisation’s best interest and take the consequences in stride.
5. Crisis management
When we think crisis management the Covid-19 pandemic probably top the list. This global crisis tested leaders worldwide and exposed businesses to unforeseen vulnerabilities. The pandemic also required leaders to shift their business models to survive in their respective industries.
At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Apple chose to take a proactive approach to crisis management. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, informed the stakeholders that the pandemic would impact the company and that uncertainty was ahead. Cook insisted that the production and manufacturing of new products would continue, despite the microchip shortage that left many competitors at a production standstill. Through leadership prioritising solutions and honesty, Apple could continue innovating despite the surrounding global conditions. Apple employees could also work from home, making them feel safe and respected during the pandemic.
Leaders must remain optimistic, honest, realistic, and calm during crises, even in the face of stress and anxiety. However, showing your human side is also valuable to your teams. Demonstrate that you’re doing your best to navigate the business through the crisis but are just as vulnerable as your team. Striking this balance between making rational decisions and managing personal stress is what keeps good leaders at the helm.
6. Feedback and recognition
Feedback requires trust between leaders and their teams, while recognition relies on feedback to know whom to appreciate and how. This is one of the most common leadership challenges today, especially for companies that struggle with employee engagement.
An excellent strategy to overcome this challenge is 360-degree feedback. Unlike a standard performance review that gives feedback from supervisors to employees, the 360-degree feedback process also gathers input from peers and customers. The various perspectives offer insights leaders can apply to team building, compensation planning, training opportunities, and reward mechanisms.
According to Forbes, more than eighty-five percent of all Fortune 500 companies utilise the 360-degree feedback process. From big tech companies such as Google to esteemed banks such as Barclays and Goldman Sachs, 360-degree feedback assists companies in gathering helpful feedback to innovate further and grow.
Having 360-degree feedback also helps hybrid and remote work options stay productive and on the same page. Having a centralised performance management system that provides consistent feedback and clear expectations will help leaders manage challenges.
Leaders face the challenge of motivating themselves and their teams, especially if projects fail or during crises. When lacking motivation, businesses experience high turnover, low productivity, and a toxic work environment. Unfortunately, staying enthusiastic and positive is challenging when a company struggles to meet its goals. Leaders also know that their teams look to them for guidance, which can be demotivating.
To overcome this leadership challenge, measure employee satisfaction rates first using short surveys or one-on-one interviews. Once you gauge your team’s motivation, you can implement strategies like flexible work schedules, mental health support, bonuses and benefits, and improving communication.
When speaking with The New York Times about his leadership style, Shantanu Narayen, president, and CEO of Adobe Systems, noted that motivating his employees was a top priority. Due to the company’s size, Narayen expressed that giving personal responsibility and having many leaders helps employees feel invested in the company’s success. When all employees and their contributions are valued, all participants have a sense of autonomy, and the company excels. Narayen also shared that setting ambitious goals and encouraging people to accomplish them is vital to success and how he helps his peers stay motivated.
Five Tips to Overcome Leadership Challenges
Leadership can be a lonely and overwhelming responsibility, but you can overcome leadership challenges in the workplace with the tips below.
1. Practice self-care
Leaders must keep themselves motivated, deal with exhaustion, and avoid burnout. Self-care is a great way to overcome these challenges, beginning with switching off work obligations after-hours. Demonstrate to your team that you only answer work communications during appropriate hours, and they’re likely to adopt the same practice. Outline the ideal ways to reach you during emergencies or crises. In addition, ensure you eat a healthy diet, stay hydrated, and get adequate sleep and exercise.
2. Clarify your roles
When everyone knows what they’re responsible for, they can manage their workloads appropriately and focus on high-impact activities. It also helps leaders to delegate tasks to the most capable team members and recruit the right talent to fill skill gaps. Communicate these roles to everyone and encourage questions if they need further clarification. Otherwise, you end up micromanaging your team and wasting precious resources.
3. Develop clear priorities
If you’re running multiple projects, outline which ones take top priority and allocate your resources to them. Remember that these priorities may shift at any moment, so create contingency plans that adapt to various operational scenarios. Apply the 80/20 rule: 80% of your impact comes from 20% of your activities. Identify these high-impact tasks and make decisions accordingly.
4. Be proactive
Leadership is often reactive: your skills and expertise apply best during organisational disruptions. However, you can adopt a more proactive leadership style by defining your decision-making framework. Keep your organisation’s purpose at the core, then match your beliefs and attitudes to fulfill this purpose. This way, you maintain consistent leadership through good and bad times.
5. Lead authentically
Instead of fitting your personality into a leadership approach or framework, be true to yourself as you develop your leadership skills. Combine various leadership styles to match your organisation, and ask for help from your team and mentors when you need it. Authentic leadership can boost employee engagement and significantly improve productivity.
Leadership has many difficulties, but it’s also gratifying. This guide is an overview of leadership challenges and solutions to implement to overcome them. A good leader understands that their guidance not only grows a company but improves the lives of their teams in meaningful ways.
While no leadership style is a magic bullet for these common leadership challenges, maintain a learning and growth mindset to find the best approach for your situation. This way, you stay true to your values, improve your emotional intelligence, and become the best leader who inspires and motivates your team daily.