The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: “What’s the key to great leadership?” is written by Kathy Collins, CMO of H&R Block.
Let’s start with a universal truth: Anyone can be a strong leader through good times. But the truly great leaders emerge when things start to fall apart. The best leaders I’ve ever worked for or with are those who can show vulnerability, those who can laugh at themselves, and ultimately, those who can pick themselves (and their teams) back up after tough times or unsatisfactory business results. Whether a leader faces a business challenge, a decision challenge, or a personnel challenge, in reality, few things are insurmountable. A good leader can recover. But it’s how a leader chooses to lay out their recovery plan that matters.
I’ve been lucky enough to witness a leader do just that.
It was the end of a tough year. The results weren’t where we needed them to be, and we didn’t hit our goals. And to top it off, investors were angry—and rightfully so. The board of directors called an impromptu meeting with my boss. They wanted her to explain what went wrong.
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Everybody got to work—including me. Teams nervously scrambled to compile every detail of what had happened in the year—trends, competitive activity, and promotion results. Our boss took it all in and prepared her story for the board—and then she called a meeting of her direct reports. I was worried. What was she going to say?
But when I walked into that room, I was heartened. The meeting had no purpose other than to look everyone in the eye and remind us, “I believe in every one of you. None of you should feel alone, and none of you should feel this is all on you. This is a no-blame culture, and we all own this together.” And, after a moment of complete silence, she said, “Now, let’s go fix this.”
And that was it.
We went from a bunch of beaten-down, sullen workaholics to an energized team of believers. Our leader had our backs, and our mission was clear and critical.
So, what’s the key to great leadership? It’s an interesting recipe that changes with every situation. But ultimately, it’s about ownership, and it’s about uplifting your people—especially in the face of challenges. In that situation, our leader never left us wondering about her intentions, her confidence, or our collective futures. In the face of an angry investor who shot, “You shouldn’t even have your job!” she didn’t miss a beat. “Thank you for the feedback,” was all she said.
And, in case you’re wondering—we did recover.