Skip to main content
leadership lab

This column is part of Globe Careers' new Leadership Lab series, where executives and leadership experts share their views and advice about the leadership and management issues of today. There will be a new column every weekday. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

One of the most important roles an effective leader plays in any organization is to motivate and inspire employees. When times are good, it can be fun, if not easy. But on darker days, when the economy is in turmoil and the road ahead seems rocky, it's a challenge. That's when your mettle as a leader will be truly tested, and you'll need to prove what you're made of.

I speak from experience. Times have been interesting, to say the least, in the Canadian retail sector over the past few years. In the face of foreign and domestic competition, the influx of e-commerce, changes in consumer buying patterns and more, it hasn't been easy to keep growing. But grow we have.

Along the way, I've learned a number of lessons that have helped me to stay focused as a leader and, I believe, motivate the people around me to succeed. Here are my top five tips for leading during uncertain times:

1. Plan ahead

Right from the start, identify key strategic goals and make them known to everyone in the company. Winning organizations make planning a strategic asset. Of course, much is made of the importance of aligning an organization's efforts with its strategic objectives at any time – as well it should be. But a key component of success, especially when times are tough, is the clear and consistent articulation of goals and expectations, throughout the entire organization. It represents a conscious and essential choice by the company's most senior management, and helps to ensure that the whole fleet is sailing in the same direction.

2. Be consistent

Once you have determined your course of action, stick to it. When your teams are dealing with challenges on a day-to-day basis, they need to know they can count on you to do what you say you will – every time. My background, prior to joining the Source, wasn't in retail. As a result, my perspective might be a little different from others in this sector, but my teams know what I stand for. I regularly talk about four strategic imperatives that guide our business decisions; these don't change and they provide a bedrock foundation for day-to-day activities across the organization.

3. Stay visible

Some days you might want to stay in your office, meet solely with a trusted inner circle, or keep quiet if you don't have good news to share. But the old adage is true: Actions speak louder than words. Get out there and talk to your teams. Find out what people are working on, and encourage good ideas. Treat people the way you want to be treated, and be sure to demonstrate behaviour that you want to see in your organization in order to build a culture of transparency and respect. I take time to visit our stores to see how things are going, have lunch in our store support centre (the "I Want That" Bistro) with our office associates, and walk the distribution centre floor. These are really simple things, but they allow me to connect with teams across the business and better understand where there are opportunities for recognition or improvements.

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate

I believe fully in a strategy of overcommunicating internally, and I can't stress enough the importance of sticking to this strategy during uncertain times. I see it as essential to share information on a regular basis so that all employees are in the loop and can more effectively do their jobs. At the same time, remember that communicating is a two-way street: it's also important to ask your leadership team and the broader staff their opinions on how to consistently improve and innovate. This will bring great ideas to the fore and can keep you – and your organization – moving forward.

5. Don't forget to celebrate and say thank you

Celebrate the small wins as this will motivate your teams to do better work. If your teams succeed, even if it's a small feat, be sure to say thank you – recognition of success will lead to larger efforts and increased loyalty. It's also important to set your goals high: Motivate teams to double sales in the next year, not achieve just 3-per-cent growth. This isn't because you necessarily expect to double sales, but because you won't get innovative ideas and outperformance from people who stay within the familiar. Then, when they make strides toward those goals, recognize those efforts with your appreciation. I find that even a simple handwritten note of thanks goes a long way; an expression of sincere gratitude is motivating and inspiring.

Ultimately, as a leader you'll find that there are always bumps in the road. But for me, focusing on these five principles – whether times are uncertain or not – make it that much easier to get through the rough patches.

Charles Brown is president of The Source, a leading Canadian consumer electronics and mobile retailer.

Interact with The Globe