Tania Friedlander: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

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Leading effectively during uncertain and turbulent times is challenging, and there are five crucial things a business leader should focus on. First, it’s important to reconnect to your ‘why’, your purpose. Turbulent times can often cause us to lose sight of what was once clear. Reconnecting to this purpose and effectively communicating it helps maintain focus and direction.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Tania Friedlander.

Tania Friedlander is Leadership & High Performance Coach, attorney by training and former champion athlete. She has trained at world-leading coaching institutions such as the International Coaching Federation Professional Certified Coach (PCC) and Certified Gallup Global Strengths Coach.

Driven by her passion for helping individuals break through their challenges, Tania has coached executives and emerging leaders from Google, Facebook, Salesforce, Neiman Marcus, Morgan Stanley and other leading companies, helping 300+ high performers find clarity, direction, leverage their strengths, achieve their goals, and become the best leaders and professionals they can be. You can learn more at taniafriedlander.com.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

My journey really started a long time ago when I was in school, torn between psychology and law. I remember being intrigued by psychology, but it wasn’t what I had envisioned. It was centered around theories about mental health disorders, which somehow didn’t align with my interests. This realization led me to understand that psychology wasn’t really for me; I wanted more than just learning theories.

Therefore, I decided to embark on the legal path. Being analytical, with a great memory and the ability to see both sides of an issue, everyone around me believed I would make a great lawyer. My dream was to become a human rights lawyer, to stand up for what’s right and defend those who couldn’t stand up for themselves. I wanted to protect people’s rights, and this vision fueled my ambition. However, life had other plans. I ended up in real estate law instead of pursuing human rights law. I found myself trapped behind a desk, drafting contracts all day, missing the opportunity to leverage my strengths and make a meaningful impact. I yearned for more meaningful connections and conversations, as my current role lacked that personal touch.

When I moved to the US ten years ago, I was faced with the question of whether I should continue going down the legal path. You might wonder why I didn’t stick with the law, right? Well, I could have, but I saw this as an opportunity to reinvent myself.

I wanted to create an impact, which was my initial drive for becoming a human rights lawyer. Unfortunately, the reality of being in real estate law left me feeling disconnected and limited in my ability to make a difference. Sitting there day in and day out, drafting contracts, was too dry for me. I needed more human interaction and a greater sense of purpose.

So, this realization prompted my personal journey to identify my strengths and what was missing in my life. This is where my renewed passion for psychology, specifically positive psychology, came into play. I looked into the field of coaching.

My path shifted from my initial career aspirations in law to supporting others on their unique journeys. This eventually led me to delve deeper into the world of positive psychology, where everything finally fell into place. Positive psychology focused on what’s right with people rather than what’s wrong, and this perspective resonated with me deeply. It wasn’t about exploring the dark side of mental health; it was about discovering and nurturing people’s greatness.

I became passionate about unleashing the potential in everyone, which drove me to pursue coaching. I dedicated two years to intensive professional coach training, marking the beginning of my new path. Initially, I aimed to coach lawyers because I understood the factors that led to burnout in their profession and wanted to help them reach their full potential.

Since then, I’ve always connected back to my first path in life as a professional table tennis player. I incorporate elements from table tennis and law into coaching, drawing from my diverse experiences. High-performance coaching, in particular, benefits from these insights. I apply concepts from sports, where coaching is a given, understanding that if we need coaches for sports and fitness, the same applies to life. I wanted to be that coach for people’s lives.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It’s funny to reflect on this now, but one of the funniest mistakes I made when I first started, which I see many others doing now, is focusing on superficial aspects of business. When embarking on the journey of starting your own business, many people immediately think about getting a logo, business cards, and looking for a website designer. This seems humorous to me now, as it’s a common path for many of my clients. However, the first and most crucial step should be to serve your clients effectively. It’s essential to niche down, understand who you’re serving, identify the problems your clients face, and the solutions your product or service provides.

Many people invest heavily without being clear on their target market, the actual needs of their product or service, or the specific problems they aim to solve. This lack of clarity often leads to mediocrity, and they end up having to change everything after significant investment. The focus should be on gaining experience and exposure, fine-tuning services and products, and understanding what makes them unique and stand out.

Another common pitfall is solely focusing on your product or service from your perspective, rather than centering it on the client. It should be about serving them. This shift in focus is vital, especially at the beginning when self-consciousness and imposter syndrome can be prevalent. Many people starting out are self-conscious, but this often stems from focusing on themselves rather than on the people they’re serving and the value of their product or service.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I firmly believe that nobody can navigate their journey alone. Everyone needs support. At some point, we all face breakdowns, question ourselves, encounter self-doubt, and face various challenges. Support is crucial for everyone, but it differs from person to person. For me, my husband has been that unwavering pillar of support. Throughout my entrepreneurial journey, he has always believed in me, even when I doubted my path.

Reflecting on my seven-year journey, there were moments, maybe once or twice, when I considered giving up. During those times, my husband was there to remind me of my successes, abilities, skills, and the impactful changes I’ve made in people’s lives. As high achievers, and working with many, I’ve noticed a common trait: we’re always looking at ‘what’s next’ and often forget to acknowledge how far we’ve come.

Having someone to reflect your progress back to you is invaluable. This person reminds you of where you were a month, a year, or several years ago, highlighting your growth, the caliber of people you work with now, and the positive changes in your life. It’s easy to focus on where we are and the distance we still have to cover, rather than appreciate the journey we’ve already undertaken.

My husband is not just a believer in my capabilities; he also reminds me of how far I’ve come. This kind of support is crucial. He clarifies things for me, provides support, and complements my strengths with his own. This makes our partnership ideal, as we complement each other’s capabilities.

I am incredibly grateful to have him in my life. He’s not only my biggest cheerleader, but also an integral part of my success and continual growth. Having such support is essential, and I am fortunate to have found it in my husband.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

When I started, my vision was rooted in understanding the cultural differences I observed between my home country Austria and America, where everyone seemed to be constantly running. Everywhere I went, the common response I encountered when trying to connect with people was, “I’m busy.” This observation struck me, especially coming from the field of law. It was intriguing to see how being busy had become a badge of honor, almost an identity marker. It led me to question: If one isn’t busy, then who are they? This constant drive for productivity and the need to always be generating or producing something seemed to form a core part of people’s identities.

As I worked with lawyers initially, I noticed people were losing themselves. Their identity became so intertwined with their profession that they were losing sight of their priorities and true selves. I wanted to guide them towards living a life true to themselves, making conscious choices and decisions. This desire to foster consciousness shifted from working with lawyers to guiding conscious leaders and business owners.

The essence of my work became about living a conscious life, a life true to oneself. I observed many people constantly chasing something, driven by fear of failure, concern about others’ perceptions, and living up to external expectations. They seemed to lose track of what they genuinely wanted or what would make them feel fulfilled.

My purpose was to help them align with who they truly wanted to be, leading a fulfilling life without regrets. I aimed to guide them towards living in alignment with their values and true desires. My vision was and is to ensure that people lead a life they are proud of, a life that’s authentic and true to themselves.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

The key to leading a team during difficult or uncertain times is to view every situation as an opportunity. Even in uncertainty and difficulty, there are tremendous opportunities if we choose to see them that way. Life is full of opportunities, and the challenge lies in shifting from crisis and stress mode to a mindset focused on finding those opportunities.

This shift is possible when the leader remains calm and content. A leader’s role is to be transparent and effectively communicate the situation, especially when changes are necessary. For example, during COVID, many shifts and changes were needed. It’s crucial to explain to the team why these changes are important and the potential challenges of not adapting.

Transparency and communication are essential. The more you communicate about what is happening, the more your team will trust you and feel a sense of control and calm. Leaders should constantly connect everyone to the big picture, discuss shifting goals, share what is known and unknown, and convey their thoughts on the current circumstances. It’s also important to express what you need from the team and to set clear expectations.

In uncertain times, our minds naturally seek control. Therefore, it’s vital for leaders to address both the uncertainties and certainties of the situation. If not, people may make assumptions, often jumping to worst-case scenarios, because our minds look for certainty even in uncertainty. These assumptions can be misleading or misguided. Effective communication from the leader can prevent the team from jumping to conclusions.

Additionally, it’s important to identify areas of control, even in times of uncertainty. Be transparent, involve the team in decision-making processes where possible, and communicate clearly. Involving the team in decisions can foster a sense of ownership and collaboration, helping to navigate these challenging times more effectively.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

There is a saying by the famous philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche,“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” Knowing why you’re doing something is vital. Often, motivation drops because we’re overly concerned with what others think, chasing externally driven goals rather than internally driven ones.

The most empowering way to live is a self-determined life, living on your terms, which brings me back to the concept of conscious living and leadership. We lose motivation when we’re bogged down by concerns about others’ perceptions, fear of failure, or worrying about appearances. It’s crucial to be clear on what you really want in order to set goals that excite you. Perhaps your goals aren’t ambitious enough.

Dan Sullivan, Founder of Strategic Coach, once said, “In order to make your present better, make your future bigger.” This means having a compelling vision that excites you and connects to who you want to become. Instead of being anchored to your past identity, connect with your future self. This vision is what will motivate you, allowing you to live a more empowering present.

Approach your goals with specificity, clarity, and strategy. Always connect to your future vision to enhance your present, rather than being held back by old patterns. Set internal goals that excite you, goals that resonate with what you want to achieve, not just what others expect of you. Otherwise, you risk burning out, constantly chasing something without knowing what it is, and nothing ever feels good enough.

This approach is how I stay connected to my goals, my passion, and my vision for the future. The impact I want to create sustains my drive. I aim to help people live a more conscious and fulfilling life, achieving their goals. Having experienced the struggle of losing motivation, I want to be the cheerleader for others in their journeys.

I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?

Absolutely! One of my favorite books is called “Chop Wood, Carry Water” by Joshua Medcalf. It’s about a boy in love with samurai culture, aspiring to become a samurai archer. He has a mentor who guides him. The story revolves around the boy’s moments of wanting to give up when he doesn’t see progress or get the outcome he desires. Each time, he’s reminded of the mundane task of chop wood, carry water. This phrase becomes a mantra for persistence, teaching him to love the game for what it is and to fall in love with the process, not just the outcome.

The story illustrates how we often feel discouraged, thinking we are not good enough or that our goals are too big. It teaches about loving the process instead of focusing on the outcome and how comparison can steal joy. The phrase, “The grass is greener where you water it” emphasizes focusing on your path and improving with each task. Another saying in the book, “Comparison is incredibly short-sighted,” warns against only focusing on others’ success at our own expense. The book conveys that everyone wants to be great until it’s time to do what greatness requires. Only the great ones keep going and fall in love with the process.

In my journey, especially as a professional table tennis player, I realized that focusing only on the outcome would have led me to give up long ago. Most athletes lose more than they win, so it’s about falling in love with the game, deliberate practice, and seeing every experience as a learning opportunity. Each moment of perceived failure is a chance to improve. It’s about not being shortsighted and focusing only on winning, but rather on loving the process.

The book’s message is about the power of resilience. There’s a saying that goes, “You don’t find any traffic after going the extra mile.” Meaning that most people won’t do what it takes to get there, but if you choose to do what others won’t, you’ll get to where others can’t.

As an effective leader, building your own resilience helps build a resilient team. Everything starts with you. If you crumble, the team will too. However, if you focus on deliberate practice, getting better as a leader, and putting team members in the right roles, you lead effectively. This is how resilience impacts both you and your team.

I worked with a leader managing a team. We focused on building her resilience and balance. By identifying her strengths and ensuring she does what she does best, she became more motivated and, in turn, motivated her team. This approach led her to lead with more empathy, better communication, and empowerment. She embraced uncertainty as an opportunity, not a cause for anxiety or stress. By taking care of yourself and doing what you do best, you lead more effectively. Building your own resilience ensures you can build a resilient team, using the same tools that worked for you.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

Resilience is one of the most important responsibilities of a leader, as it’s crucial to model the way. People always look to the leader, observing not just what you say but also how you react and the decisions you make. As a leader, you need to remain calm and content, ensuring you’re in the right state of mind, not in a reactive mode. Managing your own emotions and energy is key. By doing this, you can guide your team through challenging times and rise above.

You must take care of your needs to maintain a calm and content state of mind and lead with empathy. Communication with your team is vital; be transparent. Transparency builds trust, especially when acknowledging the difficulty of times. Show your team that you’ve got this. Look at your team, understand their needs, and provide clarity. Involve them in decision-making where possible, as this empowers them and builds trust.

Modeling resilience means not giving in to crisis mode or panic. You demonstrate that you’re in control and can find a way. Empower your team, lead with empathy, and communicate effectively. Let your team members feel heard and seen, showing empathy and providing psychological safety. This approach helps you navigate through critical times.

Treat every uncertainty or challenge as an opportunity. Your team will be inspired and learn what it’s like to lead through challenging times. When everything is smooth, it’s wonderful, but leading effectively through difficulty is what makes a leader unforgettable and inspiring. This approach enables you not just to survive but to thrive.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

To inspire through purpose, it’s essential to reconnect to the big picture and instill a deeper sense of purpose. Many companies, like Lego, have undergone numerous changes but always maintained a powerful north star. Lego’s inspiration came from developing products for builders, providing children with building bricks to enable learning through play. This vision was highly motivating for Lego’s people, exemplifying the importance of reconnecting to that purpose and the bigger picture.

Then, consider what commitment we redesign. What are we committing to now, through this uncertainty? Investing in your people is crucial. Focus on developing leadership and talent, and put people in the right seats. People become more engaged and motivated when they do what they do best. Learn about them and instill a culture of continuous learning where they can grow and develop. One of the main reasons people leave companies is the lack of growth opportunities. Create an environment where learning and development are prioritized, ensuring everyone is in their right role, understanding their strengths, and aligning tasks and responsibilities accordingly.

Hold your team accountable and always put your people first. When you prioritize your people, they feel empowered and cared for. Remember, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Show your support and dedication, lead with resilience, and ensure you are connected to the purpose and vision. Recommit to this vision, invest in developing your leadership and talent, and continue to focus on learning and growth.

Ensure that every team member has the opportunity to do what they do best every day. Hold them accountable and prioritize their well-being and development. By doing so, your team will feel empowered and inspired, recognizing the critical nature of these times.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

The best way to communicate difficult news to a team member or customer is to first connect with yourself. Often, we react emotionally, speaking from frustration or anger, especially when delivering difficult news. The first step is always to connect with yourself. Ask yourself, “What do I really want to communicate? What do I want to express? How do I want to relate to the other person?” We often find ourselves stuck in a certain perspective or bringing in negative energy towards the other person. Setting an intention for how you want to relate to them, such as with empathy and calmness, is crucial.

Before communicating, it’s vital to stay connected to yourself, setting your intention clearly. This helps in not being merely reactive. Without planning what you want to communicate, conversations can often go off track, leaving you wondering why it didn’t go well. Being reactive can lead to regrettable statements. So, first connect with yourself, and decide how you want to relate to the other person. When things get heated, you can always return to this intention.

During the conversation, ask questions and listen. Allow the other person to express themselves, and validate their perspective. People want to feel heard and seen. After they speak, summarize what you heard to ensure you’ve understood correctly, giving them the chance to clarify if needed.

Then, share your perspective. By doing this, you remain true to your intention, relate in the way you wanted to, and ensure the other person feels heard and seen. They get the opportunity to express themselves, feel validated and acknowledged, and the conversation moves forward effectively. This approach is key in communicating difficult news, ensuring both parties feel heard and progress is made.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

Adaptability is the crucial factor in navigating changing environments. There’s a famous saying, “The only constant is change.” Even though it’s impossible to predict the future, the secret to success lies in adapting quickly. This was evident during the pandemic. No one predicted a global pandemic, but the most successful companies, like Zoom and Amazon, adapted swiftly to the new work-from-home orders and various restrictions. These companies weren’t necessarily prepared, but they were willing to adapt.

Often, companies are rigid in their approach, which can hinder their ability to respond to unforeseen changes effectively. It’s essential for businesses to let go of this rigidity and one-way thinking. Dynamic planning is vital because there will always be uncertainties. We need to focus on all the possibilities to prevent being caught off guard. This calls for a more dynamic planning strategy, where flexibility and adaptability are at the forefront of every leader’s mind. Without these qualities, businesses risk failure, as change is inevitable.

Usually, companies focus on predictable areas that they can forecast. However, to truly be resilient, a company must consider all possibilities and plan for various scenarios. While it’s not feasible to prepare for every eventuality, businesses can establish plans for potential scenarios. For instance, knowing that if ‘X’ happens, ‘Z’ will be the response. Adaptability has been key for companies to thrive during uncertain times, especially evident during the pandemic. The most successful companies have demonstrated their ability to adapt and respond effectively to change.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

Resilience is the fundamental principle that will steer your company through the ups and downs of turbulent times. The ability to stay calm and connected is crucial. Often, people find themselves in reactive mode, especially when faced with threats or danger, resorting to a fight-or-flight response. However, the key is to avoid this instinct and instead maintain calmness. By zooming out and adopting a proactive approach, making conscious choices and decisions, and being transparent and communicative with your team, you can navigate these challenges effectively.

Building on your own strength and resilience is essential. Everything stems from you as a leader. If you are strong and capable of weathering the ups and downs, your team will follow suit. Your resilience becomes a guiding force for your team, enabling them to stay focused and adaptive during difficult times. This approach is not just about managing the present but also preparing your team for future challenges, fostering a culture of resilience and proactive problem-solving.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

A common mistake businesses make during difficult times is acting on emotions. People often take things personally and become emotional about business challenges. The key is not to be reactive, but to be proactive. By staying calm, you are able to make decisions that are best for the business, not based on feelings.

Another mistake is seeing difficult times only as challenges. When we view these times as opportunities, we become more creative, strategic, and resourceful. It’s a matter of shifting perspective from seeing only the problems to finding potential opportunities within those challenges.

Thirdly, businesses fail to own their mistakes. Acknowledging and taking responsibility for mistakes is crucial for finding effective solutions. Superficial fixes arise from not fully recognizing the problem’s root. As a leader or business owner, it’s essential to own up to these mistakes. Pointing fingers at others or external circumstances prevents finding the right solutions and moving forward effectively.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times?

Leading effectively during uncertain and turbulent times is challenging, and there are five crucial things a business leader should focus on. First, it’s important to reconnect to your ‘why’, your purpose. Turbulent times can often cause us to lose sight of what was once clear. Reconnecting to this purpose and effectively communicating it helps maintain focus and direction.

Secondly, effective communication with your team is vital. Uncertain times can lead to reactive behaviors and a feeling of threat among team members. By being transparent and proactive in your communication, you can help minimize uncertainty and assumptions. It’s also important to celebrate milestones, reinforcing positive achievements and maintaining transparency.

Additionally, supporting your people with the resources they need during these times is essential. Goals and challenges may shift, and it’s important to actively listen to your team’s needs and provide the necessary support. This support is integral to adapting to new challenges and maintaining team morale.

Putting your people first is also critical. When your team is strong, the entire business is strong. This approach embodies the principles of servant leadership. It’s an opportunity for growth and learning, not just for you as a leader but for your entire team. When you view challenges as opportunities for continuous learning and growth, your team is more likely to adopt the same mindset, fostering a positive and resilient work culture even in the face of adversity.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Carl Jung, the renowned psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, once said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” Over the years, I’ve seen this play out time and again. People often don’t take action due to fear and self-limiting beliefs. They cling to these beliefs, allowing them to hinder their potential and live in the shadow of negative feelings. However, when we raise our consciousness and self-awareness, we can uncover the ideas buried in our unconscious. This empowers us to become masters of our lives, to live confidently and create the life we truly desire, a self-determined life.

Unfortunately, many live unconsciously, influenced by others’ opinions, societal norms, and expectations from friends and family. In conversations, I often find that people generally know what to do. The challenge isn’t strategy; it’s the internal barriers. The real work involves uncovering these unconscious elements to live more consciously and with greater self-awareness. Understanding the root of our desires and fears allows us to live on our terms, which is incredibly empowering.

Most people struggle with self-understanding. They’re unclear about their desires, often because fear masks their true wants. Winston Churchill’s words come to mind: “Fear is a reaction, courage is a decision.” Many react based on fear, unable to embrace courage. The first step toward effective leadership and becoming the business owner you aspire to be is to make the unconscious conscious, to bring to light the internal challenges and overcome them.

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can learn more about my work at my website: https://taniafriedlander.com/ and by subscribing to my mailing list here: https://www.taniafriedlander.coach/landing

And please connect with me on the following social media platforms:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/taniafriedlandercoach/

Facebook: Tania Friedlander

Instagram: @tania_friedlander

I look forward to staying connected!

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Tania Friedlander: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.