7 Secrets to Leading Through Turbulence


I chartered a sailboat for our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. It was clear, sunny, and we could see the shores of St. Croix, when the captain invited me to “take the helm.”

Even a former farm boy can steer the boat in calm waters. I felt more important than I was. But…

Leaders matter most during storms.

Turbulent times and threatening circumstances call for skillful leadership. People depend on you. Challenging times make or break you and those around you. Rise up.

Your response impacts their response.

7 Surprising secrets to sailing in rough seas:

  1. Give power don’t take it. Tough times paralyze powerless people. Stifle your inner control freak!
  2. People feel most powerful when they feel in control. I still remember the feeling of holding the helm. I wasn’t doing much but I felt in control. Focus on controllable behaviors not uncontrollable circumstances.
  3. Ramp up compassion; tone down harshness. Embrace the tension between tender and tough. You tip toward one or the others. Cling to both. Exceptional leaders call for excellence in compassionate ways, for example.
  4. Deal quickly and decisively with lollygaggers. Do it for the good of the team. They anchor everyone. Give ultimatums to half-hearted foot-draggers. “You have one week to get on board or I’m throwing you over the side.” Crews cheer when sluggards walk the plank.
  5. Respond to hand wringing naysayers by asking, “What can we do?”
  6. Say everything you can say. Information is power. The more information you give the more powerful they feel.
  7. Create predictability when times are unpredictable. Establish rituals. Schedule a Wednesday morning meeting to track progress,  adapt plans, and create wins.

Bonus: Stand on deck more than ever. Be seen: walk around more, touch base more, stop in more.

Added resource: “10 Ways to Navigate Turbulence.”

What does leading successfully in turbulence look like to you?

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