How to Lead Yourself and Your Team Through Adversity

by Jeff Janssen, Janssen Sports Leadership Center

Anyone can lead when things go well but real leaders step up when the "stuff" hits the fan. With the worldwide coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc and the turmoil created from police brutality spurring non-violent and violent protests across the world, the "stuff" is hitting the fan in many ways.

During times of crisis, chaos, and confusion, people instinctively look to their leaders to try to make sense of the situation, calm their fears, maintain a sense of perspective and hope, and develop an effective plan of action to endure, survive, and overcome the situation.

Whether you are a captain, coach, athletic administrator, principal, parent, politician, CEO, minister, or leader of any kind, your people look to you for solid and credible leadership, especially during difficult times.

To fulfill this important leadership role and responsibility, here are several practical tips you can follow to help yourself and your people through this difficult situation.



No matter how difficult things may seem, maintain your own poise under pressure. As Duke men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski reminds us in his book Leading with the Heart, "A leader must show the face his team needs to see."

People will look at your face as well as tune in to the tone of your voice to determine whether they should panic or remain calm; to give up or maintain hope. Check yourself before you address your people to ensure you are calm and composed. If you aren't, take some time to control your thinking, outlook, and breathing so you can get yourself in a mental "Green Light" before speaking with your people.

Show your team you are calm, composed, and in control, even though you may not 100% feel that way at the time. In leading by example, your calm and controlled demeanor goes a long way toward helping your team think clearly and react appropriately during the crisis; to feel prepared rather than panicked.



As a leader, you must always consider and act on what is best for your people - not what is best for you personally. If you look out primarily for yourself and your best interests, your people will quickly see through you and lose respect for you.

Leaders must always keep in mind the team's health and welfare; to serve their needs and protect their interests no matter what.

As they say in the maritime industry, "The captain must go down with the ship." This means the leader must always place the health, safety, and well-being of their people above their own.



Your people must trust you and believe you are telling them the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The only way you can earn and maintain a critical sense of trust is to be honest with them.

Acknowledge the truth of the situation and don't try to hide essential facts from them. Level with your people and don't promise things you know you can't deliver. Appropriately set and manage the expectations of the situation. If you lose the trust of your people and they no longer see you as honest and trustworthy, you will no longer be respected, looked to, or listened to as a leader.

Keep in mind what Winston Churchill once said, "There is no worse mistake in public leadership than to hold out false hopes soon to be swept away."


During a crisis, leaders must be out front rather than running or hiding from the ordeal. You must stand front and center and assume full responsibility for helping your team survive the situation and figure out how to solve it. You must show your sincere concern while also demonstrating confidence and resolve that your team will persevere.

Your people need you, especially in a crisis! Rather than hide from the chaos and confusion, step up and step in to sort out things and find a solution that best fits the current situation. Be there for your people. Be the first one in and the last one out.



Leaders must step up to quell fears, calm people down, and communicate with them. Clear, credible, and consistent communication is critical in a crisis.

Because fear and frustration abound, regular communication with your people is key. Consistently keep them in the loop about the latest developments and what they can do to protect themselves and overcome the challenges.

You must speak up and take charge of the situation rather than allowing a communication vacuum where rumors and misinformation spread.

Overcommunicate. Reassure your people and give them a simple yet workable plan that will get them safely through the crisis.



Invest the time to thoroughly understand the situation as much as possible from all angles. Take a step back from the current chaos and confusion, see the bigger picture, and anticipate how it could play out for your people both for the short and long-term. Determine what a best case scenario, worst case scenario, and most likely case scenario might realistically be.

Seek out and listen to the credible experts and analyze what they suggest is the best plan. Determine and prioritize the specific steps your people need to take to minimize the situation and safely get through the challenge. Outline simple and specific action steps they can take today to help themselves and the team and communicate these often.



Great leaders see and feel situations from their people's perspective. Empathize with your people's fears, doubts, struggles, pains, and frustrations. Realize your people can get scared, sad, angry, overwhelmed, and depressed as they face adversity and deal with the hardships.

While you should appropriately acknowledge the challenges and concerns, seek to effectively refocus your people off of the obstacles and on to the opportunities. Help your team transform the disappointment into determination to make the best of the situation.



As difficult as the crisis can seem at times, remind people there is hope. Napoleon once said, "Leaders are purveyors of hope."

As a leader you must always keep hope alive and on the forefront of your people's hearts and minds.

Sure, there will be dark times, there will be setbacks, there will be losses. Your people will get discouraged, distracted, and even devastated when they face challenges.

Yet despite the problems, you must always look to bounce back, keep the faith, keep trying, keep moving forward, and find a way.

Always give your team a sense of hope and perspective. Try to focus them on past times when they overcame similar adversities and remind them they have the ability to make it through this crisis as well; that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

This too shall eventually pass and there are brighter days ahead! We just need to pull together, make short-term sacrifices, and endure and overcome it together as ONE BIG TEAM OF HUMANITY.


    Sign up for info to help your team!