The media is full of stories of businesses going under. There are countless more tottering on the edge of extinction, and others beginning to claw their way back to safer ground.

Some companies are rescued or resurrected with impressive success. Airbnb, JD Sports and Uber all had their moments of great uncertainty, to name but a few.

When faced with a “do or die” scenario, a special kind of leadership is required. One that can dig deep into a dispirited and demoralised workforce, to find new motivation. Leaders who inject new determination to succeed in teams busy “reading the writing on the wall”.

Underestimating the contribution staff can make to the fightback or seeming to ignore their views and feelings, is cancerous, just when you need “all hands on deck”.


There is a fear that telling your staff that times are tough leads to a mass exodus to more secure employment or a fall in productivity. That is certainly not the case if your leadership style provides the support and information needed to get them on side.

Keeping harsh economic realities and empty order books a secret rarely works anyway. Also, nothing spreads panic and demotivation faster than rumours and feeling in the dark.

Having a leadership team willing to be transparent and accountable can nip speculation in the bud. It shows the workforce that managers are acutely aware and ready to make changes.

Importantly, providing an honest appraisal could well secure the renewed willingness of employees to play their role in the fight back.

The battle lines have been drawn and the challenges have been laid before them, preferably in a way that gives them a degree of hope.

Solutions not just problems

Being honest can backfire if the communication is not worded and timed carefully. The information needs to be structured around solutions the management team are working on, rather than solely focusing on problems. Any form of whining, finger pointing, excuse-making or vagueness can be seen as weakness and can be destabilising.

Be present

A strong, determined and forward-thinking approach shows confidence in the future and a steady pair of hands. This should be supported by a visible presence by the leadership team. It’s tempting to disappear behind closed doors to agitate the solutions. However, when motivation is sorely needed, leaders need to be on the frontline with staff as much as possible. Even literally and metaphorically rolling their sleeves up and mucking in.

Nothing builds team spirit better than a leader willing to work alongside every member of staff and respond to them individually.

Positive non-verbal communication

Even walking around a building or sitting in meetings, it’s possible for true leaders to build motivation and confidence, with their body language and verbal tone. Plenty of eye contact and the appearance of positivity permeates the workplace culture.

So, shoulders back, sleeves up and get ready to be accountable. The fightback begins.