The 4 Mistakes Leaders Make During Difficult Times (And How To Fix Them)

Andrew Stanten


Times are tough right now – there’s no denying that. With a pandemic looming over us, it’s hard to escape the effects it’s had on our lives and our businesses. So what can we do to make things better?

The first step to setting things right is acknowledging there’s a problem. There’s no time for denial, folks.

Mistakes are normal — you’re human. It’d be weird not to have an issue pop up here or there. But the key takeaway is that as long as you realize your business mistakes and don’t leave them on the back burner, you can actively turn things around for the better.

With that in mind, here are the 4 most common mistakes businesses make during difficult times (and how you can do better).

The 4 Mistakes Leaders Make in Tough Times

Business Mistake #1: Under-Communicating

Whether you’re making a product or are a service – business is all about people. People are human. They have insecurities. And the fear of the unknown is a powerful impediment.

When people on your team don’t know what’s going on, it can be so deflating. They sit and wonder and worry – every time they see a news headline, they might be asking themselves: Is that going to affect me? Our clients? Our business?

When you under-communicate, it does nothing to alleviate the fear. It only exacerbates it.

Business leaders have to alleviate communication mistakes by over-communicating. Yes, that’s a thing.

We know it’s hard to get everyone in a room right now, but try to have those standing weekly status updates or daily scrum meetings on Zoom. In addition to helping everyone get on the same page, it helps alleviate that fear of the unknown. It doesn’t eliminate fear – but at least if you know where your business stands, and there are no unexpected surprises, you’ll be a lot more able to focus on the task at hand.

When you under-communicate as a leader, it creates suspicion. Your team won’t know what’s going on. Instead of focusing on the tasks at hand, they’ll be wondering if there will be layoffs and if they’ll still have benefits.

The key takeaway here? There is an air of uncertainty. And as a business leader, you need to eliminate that.

What do you have to lose by over-communicating? Nothing. In fact, some of the best ideas come from communicating by bringing ideas to the table.

Business Mistake #2: Thinking Too Short-Term

We don’t blame you if you’re thinking short-term – it’s really hard not to right now.

But you have to be mindful.

A lot of businesses are really struggling. From retail and restaurants to family entertainment centers, they can’t help but think – What can I do tomorrow?

When you’re so focused on the fire of today, you’re never going to be able to get out of the smoke. You’re trying to put out the fire in the immediate term – but as a business leader, you have to have hope, or else your people won’t.

It’s important to find the balance between being overly optimistic and being a debbie-downer. That’s where cautious optimism comes into play. As a business leader, you have to have cautious optimism, or else people won’t have any optimism and will worry constantly for their future.

It’s a lose-lose scenario.

A true leader has to have enough internal confidence to stop putting out fires for a moment and say – let’s look at our best-case, middle-case, and worse-case scenarios. What are things going to look like in 3 months? 6 months? 3 years? After all, if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re never going to get there.

You’re going to make short-term decisions if you’re only looking at the financials. Remember, you’re in this for the long haul. Assume the best-case scenario. Work smarter, not harder. Get more efficient – you have to be willing to.

If business leaders make mistakes such as only focusing on what will happen tomorrow or next week, they’re going to be crushed.

So be agile enough to adjust as needed.

Business Mistake #3: Lacking Empathy

During turbulent times, empathy can be the make or break for a company. And it all has to do with being human. As cliché as that may sound, people want to be treated the way want to be treated – which is well.

People want leaders with empathy. The opposite being someone who doesn’t give a rat’s behind about you. If a leader doesn’t show any empathy, every employee will be punching in their card – simply working the clock until they head home for the day. But that’s not what an effective business leader would want.

If you want to go from good to great, you need people on board. You need them to buy into and resonate with your mission, vision, and values.

One of the biggest mistakes business leaders can do is appear just human – you need to be empathetic. To get the best out of people, you have to be understanding. If they see true empathy from you, people will learn to believe in what you’re talking about. Which makes you become more trustworthy.

And when you become more trustworthy, they are more trustworthy.

And when they are trustworthy, they will want to follow your lead – and that’s when the magic happens.

In the world of business, magic isn’t about waving a wand and coming up with the perfect product – it’s about interactions.

Everyone’s lives have been made difficult due to this pandemic – there’s no doubt about it. So the last thing a leader should be doing is putting added stress on their employees. Providing them with flexibility and being understanding of their unique situations can do quite a bit of good for your company as a whole.

For one, you’ll have increased loyalty, and two, you’ll get to know the people who work for you better. Employees are more than just a number.

By relating on a human and emotional level, rather than a transactional level, you’ll be investing in your employees to make sure everyone is taken care of and working at their highest level.

What more could a business leader ask for?

Business Mistake #4: Not Saying Thank You

When times are challenging and there’s tons of uncertainty, it’s easy to focus on the negatives – and not on the silver linings. Although it seems like simple enough advice, take the time to say thank you.

In this remote world, we’ve lost an element of human connection. Which can do a great deal of damage to employee engagement.

A suggestion? Leave the last 5-10 minutes of a meeting to give everyone the opportunity to thank whomever they’d like for the work they did on a certain deliverable. Or even to compliment a funny joke they said the other day.

It shouldn’t just be business leaders offering props – it should be a peer to peer interaction. And why does that matter?

Because it creates a greater sense of connection and a family.

In fact, 89% of HR experts agree that peer interactions are the key to successful outcomes at an organization.

Saying the magical 2-word, 8-letter phrase is one of the simplest yet most meaningful things a business leader can do to boost employee morale. Some leaders lead by fear, but it doesn’t work like that. We’re not living in Machiavellian times anymore.

If you appreciate people, it can help them go from good to great.


People make mistakes. Business leaders make mistakes. And that’s perfectly normal. But doing something about it is what makes all the difference in the world between a leader and a good leader.

Leaders of a company need to have everyone’s back – literally and figuratively.

By acknowledging the potential issues of under-communication, short-term thinking, a lack of empathy and not saying thank you, you’ll be well on your way to becoming an effective business leader that sets their team up for success as you roll into the new year.

Andrew Stanten

Andrew Stanten co-founded Altitude Marketing in 2004. As CEO, he ensures the right people are on board, delivering world-class marketing services to Altitude’s global client base, and staying true to Altitude’s mission, vision and values.
Andrew possesses an innate ability to process, organize and summarize massive volumes of client and market information and turn it into actionable, strategic thinking. This enables Team Altitude to get smart about a company quickly—and develop winning, integrated approaches that vault clients into a position of prominence and strength.
Andrew graduated from Syracuse University and earned his MBA from Lehigh University.