Define Potential Blog

Leadership in Challenging Times

10 March 2020

“I don’t know about you… but I have been running on four months of constant anxiety”

“You can see the fire from the corner office! Come and look!” suggested our office secretary as she passed the conference room. My team and I had just sat down to begin our first meeting of the year.

We rose from our chairs, my heart thundering through my chest, and powered down to the corner office where the flames from the Pialligo grass fire were seemingly vacuuming the blue out of the sky. As I stood shoulder to shoulder with my team after a month of leave, my thoughts flashed to my father in law, still stuck in East Gippsland after it was encompassed in natural disaster and thought, “I need a vacation from this vacation.”

Each and every one of us had a personally challenging experience over the holiday period and are now facing Covid-19 (Coronavirus). Yet we are now back at work and we need to perform despite what happened over the summer period and the anxiety over the unforeseeable and yet inevitable effects of Covid-19. My role as a leader is to help my team meet their objectives and thrive but I have a nagging thought in my brain…

How do I lead my team when I am feeling overwhelmed and like I have had no break at all?

How do we find the resilience to lead, teach, correct, influence and inspire, all while using a thread of kindness and integrity, when our energy levels are tapped out? How can I be a resilient leader through the next few months?

Sluiter (1999) noted that pushing towards overwork leading to exhaustion to be the opposite of resilience – when you are exhausted you have impaired decision making and judgement capabilities, lower self-control, and heightened emotions. A resilient worker is a well-rested worker.

Therefore, the path to resilience for your team, and as a leader, is actually one full of rest, recovery, stability and fun. The following outlines five ways to build resilience as a leader:

  1. Take action: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) explains that in a time of difficulty, the most beneficial thing you can do for yourself is take action. Take action through looking for opportunities to do things for others. Work on helping to fill the joy tank for your team which will motivate them to work harder for you. Focus on a team catch up over lunch, bake some cookies, buy someone’s coffee unexpectedly, leave a note of appreciation on each team member’s desk (Hays 2018).
  2. Give out A’s: In their powerful leadership novel, Rosamund and Benjamin Zander (2000) suggest that giving people an A grade allows you to recognise that people are trying their best. If you chastise, you dampen the basic desire in people to “contribute to others, no matter how many barriers there are to its expression”. Giving them an A, creates a culture in your team of trust and allows you to pull out their gems despite times of struggle.
  3. Be conscious of your shadow: As a leader, your people will watch you to set the tone for the team. By being genuine and transparent, subsequently, you will allow others to do the same with you. You will free your people to both be authentic while giving them the strength and resilience to show up and move forward as well (De Haan & Kasozi, 2014).
  4. Be a ‘Human Leader’: Consider the leaders who have been your greatest role models. What do they all have in common? A sense of humour? Ability to be open, to listen, speak clearly and decisively? Do they acknowledge the work of the people around them? Are they generous with their thinking, time and advice for others, and willing to take advice…? In times of great adversity and change, consider your mentors and exercise your humanity.
  5. Recognise that change resilience & change effectiveness is a core skill that can be both learned and taught: How do I keep adapting? Accepting first that change is part of living, and that certain goals are no longer attainable due to the change of circumstances. Instead ask yourself, “What is one thing I can do today that helps me move in the direction I want to go for myself and my team?” Consider adopting a growth mindset and see challenges as gifts of opportunity to learn (Dweck, 2017).

Finally, invest in yourself: if you are not happy, you will not be healthy – and certainly not productive. Pay attention to your own feelings and needs. Reach out to others, connect with your social network, explore leadership development options at work and consider executive coaching to help you succeed in the next few months.

For information on our executive coaching and leadership development opportunities, please contact Define Potential on 6174 0869 or [email protected].


Jane Marburg, Managing Director, Define Potential

Jane has worked within the HR consultancy, general management and business development fields for the past seventeen years developing an excellent understanding of leadership, management and recruitment issues within the Australian Public Sector (APS).

Jane is a highly-experienced leader with extensive project management and contract management experience. Over a number of years, she was the contract manager for a large number of APS recruitment, learning and development panels, including the Australian Public Service Commission Recruitment, Learning and Development Panel and the Department of Industry panel.

Taylor Moellerich, Business Development Coordinator, Define Potential

Taylor graduated from Southern Oregon University with a degree in Outdoor Adventure Leadership and Psychology. Taylor has worked as a guide, outdoor educator and manager internationally since 2011. After working within the leadership space for 9 years, Taylor now focuses her passion for leadership and development into offering opportunities for leadership and development to the Public Sector.


Achor, S. and Gielan, M., 2016. Resilience is about how you recharge, not how you endure. Harvard Business Review, 24.

De Haan, E. and Kasozi, A., 2014. The leadership shadow: how to recognize and avoid derailment, hubris and overdrive. Kogan Page Publishers.

Dweck, C., 2017. Mindset-updated edition: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential. Hachette UK.

Hayes, S and Smith, S. 2018. Get out of your mind and into your life. New Harbringer

Sluiter, J.K., 1999. The influence of work characteristics on the need for recovery and experienced health: a study on coach drivers. Ergonomics, 42(4), pp.573-583.

Zander, R.S. and Zander, B., 2000. The art of possibility. Harvard Business Press.  

Blog posts you might like

A moment to reflect, and move forward

A moment to reflect, and move forward

People tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves at this time of year to get things done – finish that report, wind up the project, clean the windows, buy all the gifts, attend all the Christmas parties and prepare for the perfect holiday season. It is worth assessing every item on all our lists – both mental and actual, and ask ourselves “does this all need to be done?”

Refresh, Re-energise and Renew

Refresh, Re-energise and Renew

With the chaos of 2021 behind us, I think everyone is looking forward to the holiday break. Time with family, friends, and some much-needed relaxation. The past two years have been tough on many people. The surprising part is that some leaders have thrived through this period while others have really struggled.

Communicating in the digital era

Communicating in the digital era

While we either have or are contemplating a return to our offices, digital communication, whether that be email, messaging, Zoom or MS Teams is here to stay. Being effective in how we use these different communication tools will be critical to high performance and team management.