In an era of incredible uncertainty, the past 18 months has seen many business owners face challenges they could never have anticipated.

On again and off again lockdowns mean goals are quickly revised and contingency plans need to be in place.

But the current situation is far from the only challenge business has faced, and when it comes to the businesses who navigate it best, great leadership is always a common theme.

With that in mind here are my top learnings about business leadership in the face of challenge.

Three elements of leadership

Leadership can be a term that’s hard to pin down, but in business operations it comprises the three key elements of leading, managing and coaching.

Each is very different, but together they allow an effective leader to create a vision the team aspires to, set the actions and targets they need to meet along the way, and embrace their own goals then meet them.

Leading and managing are different

Often when we talk about leading, we’re actually referring to managing, and the two terms are very different.

Leading a team or organisation is about providing them with the mission and vision of where you will collectively go as a group.

Managing is the nuts and bolts, including the targets that are set for an organization such as KPIs.

In the current climate, leading is far more important than managing. Your team needs to know exactly where you intend to go, in light of the current circumstances or perhaps despite them.

Meanwhile, managing will need to be revised. The KPIs that might have applied a couple of months ago, perhaps don’t apply now.

Instead, it’s about considering what is possible in the short term, despite what’s going on.

Empathy is critical

There’s no mistaking leadership in the current climate is tough and you probably have very real concerns about the economic viability of your business.

But your team has their own pressures weighing on each of them, whether that’s home schooling, a partner who has lost a job or the mental toll of ongoing lockdowns.

That makes empathy critical. While you as the business owner, may have overarching goals for your business, if you tend to the welfare of your team first, you create a league of loyal fans who will go above and beyond in the interests of your business.

Control the controllables

There’s a great saying that’s particularly relevant at the moment; control the controllables. That means surrendering the things you have no power over, such as snap lockdowns or staff working from home.

It’s not useful to let these issues weigh on your mind, or on the emotions of your staff.

Instead, it’s about focusing on what you can do with what you have, or in the words of the great Arthur Ashe: “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can”.

For all the things you can’t do in business right now, there will be a multitude of things that you can.

Now’s the time to define what they are – whether it’s de-cluttering your systems and procedures, revising your business processes, putting together a business plan, or researching a new product.

Communication is key

If the past 18 months have taught us anything it’s that communication is critical – with both your staff and your customers.

Now’s the time to check in with staff and customers to understand how you can support them. This commitment to their needs sets you up as a successful leader who is in partnership with both your team and your clientele.

And when the tide turns (and it will) that will prove an incredibly valuable position to be in.