Six Keys to Great Leadership in Difficult Times

By Jack Doueck

Leadership is about dealing with change and helping others to deal with change in the most productive way possible. In 2020 tens of millions of hard-working people in all industries lost their jobs and tens of thousands of businesses closed.  In the USA alone over a half a million people died due to COVID -19. Globally, the number is tragically more than 3.2 million. It is safe to say that the world is suffering from unprecedented numbers of devastating disappointments and sadness. 

After February of 2021, anyone running an energy company is familiar with adversity. Leaders in virtually every industry and across the globe find themselves in the position of having to help their constituents overcome extreme adversity. Based on research I have personally done over the last 15 years, I believe there are six key characteristics to great leadership especially in difficult times:

  1. Leaders accept and face into adversity with faith and help others do the same. They expect the best in a spirit of optimism. No pessimist ever led successfully. Leaders say things like “Join me.” “Follow me.” “This is the vision.” “Think positive!” Leaders don’t deny reality, but simply expect the best from themselves and others. They “get back up to the plate after a strikeout.” Leaders understand how to reposition a failed product or service and reframe a nasty situation.
  1. Leaders let go of all blame and grudges. They accept responsibility for the mistakes of their followers. No matter what. They never waste time and energy playing the blame game. If you want to be a leader, you must own the mistakes made on your watch. This is the character trait that makes others want to follow you. In the world of a true leader there are no scapegoats, and certainly no grudges. Just look at the 2020 Berkshire Hathaway Letter to Shareholders written by Warren Buffet. He takes full responsibility for an $11 billion write down. He says things like: “That ugly $11 billion write-down – is almost entirely the quantification of a mistake I made in 2016…. I paid too much for the company. No one misled me in any way – I was simply too optimistic about the company.  …This was far from my first error of that sort. But it’s a big one.”  Bravo Mr. Buffett! You have successfully exemplified great leadership to millions of shareholders.
  1. Leaders are learners. If you want to grow your business 10% a year – you must grow yourself 10% a year. The better the leader, the more they seek feedback, counsel, look for constructive criticism and learn from every experience. Your capacity to grow determines your capacity to lead. The expression, “you can’t sell out of an empty wagon” is absolutely true. Also, when adversity strikes, and it always will, leaders search for the lessons in the difficulties. They say to themselves, “We paid the tuition, we might as well learn the lessons!”  Good leaders have the humility to know their own limitations. They build teams made up of people who complement their own skills and knowledge so that they can learn from everyone around them.  
  1. Leaders appreciate the strengths, the efforts and the skills of their people. Leaders are grateful for the dedication of all the people who follow them. Leaders don’t take anything or anyone for granted because they understand that tomorrow it can all disappear. Leaders know how to encourage, thank, and compliment people sincerely.  They celebrate every accomplishment of their teams and praise every small win of their people.  This is a skill that needs to be perfected so that it becomes habit.
  1. True leaders are givers, not takers. They realize that they are in the leadership position to serve others. “Think others first” is the cornerstone of good leadership.  This is a desire and cultivated ability to put yourself second and your people’s needs first. When a leader walks into a room, he or she searches for a way to add value to the audience or to the people in the room. Leaders don’t walk in with their own agenda running after applause, honor or accolades.  Leaders help others save time, save money, or introduce them to people they need to meet. Great leaders listen empathically to others. If you want to be a leader that people want to follow – be a giver and as Stephen Covey says in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “Seek to understand, then to be understood.” People do not become leaders because they are great. They become great because they are willing to serve as leaders.
  1. Leaders respond to adversity and challenges with decisive action. They have the courage to take risks. Leaders are responsible for strategy execution, for oversight of the implementation of the company’s plan, its mission, and its values. It takes courage to make decisions and take action and not be passive or timid.  

These six key attributes of leaders work well for people as well as for organizations. Mastering these six traits will improve your personal as well as in your professional life. 

More than a decade ago I set out to write a book about how I overcame the financial crisis. During the 2008-2010 crisis, I lost my billion-dollar business that I co-founded, and more than $40 million personally.  I also lost my dad, then my mom, and then my best friend.

The result of my research became a course I gave in the City University of New York called “Six Steps to Overcoming Adversity: How to Turn Setbacks into Comebacks.” I have been teaching the subject matter of the book for the last decade and I am encouraged by the successful outcomes of hundreds of adults who learned my six-step method to help them deal with life crises effectively.

In my book I tell the stories of numerous people and how they used these six steps to overcome extreme adversity and to thrive.  My goal was to create a practical guide to turn tragedy into triumph, stress into success and enrich lives in the process.  

As it turns out, resilient people who know how to overcome adversity and turn setbacks into comebacks are the best leaders! Mastering these six steps builds the best leadership skills.  

CLICK HERE for a one-minute animated video about the book.

Jack Doueck has co-founded and run more than a dozen companies over the past three decades including Energy Marketing Conferences, Advanced Energy Capital and LED Plus USA. Visit for more information about The Six Steps to Overcoming Adversity.

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