Ten Leadership Tips for Motivating your Team when things are going badly

Article by Paul Hookham, last updated October 2018


So, you’ve invested heavily in your team and acquired some of the best talent available. Customers and supporters eagerly await the start of a new adventure. You have done all you can, calling on all your experience, to prepare everybody for the challenges ahead. You and they have tasted some success in the past. Expectations are high, but you are confident they are realistic and can be managed. Nobody is expecting miracles, but a steady start is – but it remains elusive.

Weeks have passed. No points have been won, no runs on the board and no deliverables on the table. Heads have not completely dropped but the dip in morale is palpable. The team looks a little ragged and questions are starting to be asked. All eyes are locked on the leader to see what actions will be taken. 

What will they be? How can a team of highly skilled individuals be transformed into a motivated, high-performing unit that can confidently start on the road to recovery?

Great leaders stand up to be counted in times like these. The honeymoon period has long gone and the cold light of day has emerged. It’s time to get real, so here are a few rabbits that can be drawn from the hat of experience but keep this thought up your sleeve – always lead how you would like to be led.

1. Re-enforce your values

Values are those things that many of us struggle to live up to, but a leader must, especially in tough times. Get the team together and tell them what you value the most, that you passionately believe that they can achieve great things and how confident you are that success is just around the corner. It will make one hell of a difference to them.

 ‘Always turn a negative situation into a positive situation’ – Michael Jordan

2. Act

From that moment on - walk the talk. Actions always speak louder than words. Having decided what needs to be done first – do it. The world is awash with committees, steering groups, quangos, working parties and change councils. We do not need any more talking shops. A charismatic leader who acts consistently and decisively, will get the team’s backing every single time.

‘Well done is better than well said’ – Benjamin Franklin

3. Listen

People do their best work in an environment of trust and support, free from fear or blame and when they are listened to. Do they expect every suggestion to be acted upon? Hell no! They do expect that their input is considered and if not acted upon, the reasons behind it. 

‘There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak.’ – Simon Sinek

4. Insist on feedback

Well at least encourage it. The leader does not have carte blanche on great ideas. The team are working at the coalface and will have some of the best insights into where things are not working as they should. Set up systems where everyone can speak their mind. Some will be comfortable in open group sessions; others will hate them. Cater for all needs.

‘Feedback is the breakfast of champions.’ – Ken Blanchard

5. Empower

A much overused and misunderstood word. Encourage the team to make decisions in situations where they are in the best place to do so or certainly better informed. The leader cannot do everything or know everything but can support the team and offer to solve problems that they have struggled with but have been unable to resolve.

‘As we look into the next century, leaders will be those that empower others.’ – Bill Gates (last century)

6. Share the load

A team usually has a blend of youth and experience. Senior members have a lot of knowledge that can be passed on. The more people leading the charge with the same message, albeit tailored with their unique slant, the more effective the team will be, and the quicker higher performance will materialise.

‘The lessons from the peace process are clear; whatever life throws at us, our individual responses will be all the stronger for working together and sharing the load.’ – Queen Elizabeth II

7. Encourage Innovation

The last thing anyone wants to hear, especially when things are not going well, is – ‘We’ve always done it like this’. This is not very helpful. Throughout the history of mankind, great progress has only ever been made with experimentation. Everybody must expect a few setbacks along the way, but these are just learning experiences to be taken on board. Try and avoid using the word failure – just say that things didn’t quite work out as expected.

‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work’ – Thomas A. Edison

8. Celebrate 

This is the good news and lots of celebrations can be expected as success rarely comes with a ‘big bang.’ It’s usually a result of small improvements, implemented little and often, that inches the team towards the big prize. Over an extended period, a series of small changes will add up to some serious improvement. Be patient, stick to your guns, support your team and stand back in astonishment as you celebrate your collective success.

‘If you can dream it, you can do it.’ – Walt Disney 

9. Keep your Nerve

  • Never criticise your team in public – not to your boss, the board, the media – nobody. Always use the word ‘us’ or ‘we’ and not ‘them’ or ‘they’.
  • Don’t panic into making wholesale changes – if things improve, you will never know what made the difference.
  • Never lose faith – it’s not failure that’s the problem – it’s how you bounce back. Always stay positive and never lose your enthusiasm. It will inspire others.

10. Act now - dont wait till it happens!

You don’t want your pilots first attempt at a 50-mph gusting cross wind landing to be on your family holiday. So don’t wait till times are bad to work on your team’s resilience – it might be too late. Use group learning activities such as team business simulations to help your team experience challenging situations in a safe environment so that they are better prepared when it hits the fan.. 


Paul Hookham is a highly experienced and successful business and IT delivery executive with an outstanding track record of success, working for some of the world’s most demanding customers. Paul is passionate about quality and believes that people do their greatest work in an empowered, blame-free, supportive and learning environment. Paul is also a Master Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), an NLP Master Coach, a published author and experienced speaker and Senior Associate with Business Simulations Ltd.

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