How to Respond When Your Leadership is Tested

Thank you for your feedback, I’ll pray about it to see if it’s relevant.”

I don’t make this stuff up. That was the response to feedback I gave to a colleague after another colleague complained of disrespect and mistreatment from them.

There are many ways your leadership will be tested. As sudden as the situations may appear, you don’t have to be caught off guard.

Here is how to live prepared so that you can always effectively lead towards a favorable resolution, no matter how your leadership is tested.

1. Be Grounded

There is nothing that is going to come out of you that wasn’t first deposited in you.

If you want to increase the chances of you responding positively and forward building when tested, you will have to have intentionally chose your default qualities to produce that out of you well before the test comes.

This means you cannot blindly stumble into leadership nor be caught unawares by the adverse situations leadership can expose you to. Even if you don't know what is coming, you know that something will, and when it does, it will find you prepared.

So how do you prepare for when your leadership is tested?

By identifying and setting your identity, purpose, values, and goals.

When you know who you are, why you are here, what you stand for, and what you are out to achieve, you are able to govern your life and interactions to align and not deviate from that.

If you haven't already done so, set time aside to reflect on and honestly answer these 5 questions:

  1. Who am I (identity)?

  2. Why am I here (purpose)?

  3. What do I stand for (non-negotiable values)?

  4. What do I want to achieve (vision and goals)

Once you establish your foundation, ask yourself the next 3 questions to ground yourself in it:

  1. Why do I want to lead?

  2. What outcome do I want to achieve for myself, others, and the organization or cause?

  3. How will I daily manage my thoughts, words, actions so that I can move us towards, and not away from, achieving what we have come together to accomplish?

Then, do that.

2. Stop, Breathe, Think, Respond

When life comes at you a million miles per second and you have nanoseconds to decide what to do, rather than pick from the obvious fight or flight emergency options, allow yourself the freedom to choose a third.

There is a third option?

Yes. It turns out that rather than exercising the choice to either fight or flee, you can choose to Stop, Breathe, Think, Choose a Response, Choose the Conditions for the Response (time, place, participants), then, and only when you are ready, Respond.

Illustrating the power we have not to react at the moment and instead choose to respond when appropriate, Dr. Carol Chakua, Psychotherapist & Parenting Coach, once said to me, "most parents don’t understand the difference between discipline and punishment."

She went on to share a valuable point that I would like to draw from for our conversation today, and that is:

"If the aim for disciplining your child is for them to understand right and wrong, and take responsibility for their decisions, rather than react to the undesirable behavior with a swift word or action of punishment, take time to think through what would be the most appropriate response to the undesirable action in the child so that when you do respond, you promote their deeper understanding, ownership, and responsibility for their actions."

If we agree that leadership is leadership, wherever one finds themselves leading, then you can see that stopping and, if appropriate, even deferring your response after you have had time to reflect on the best way to move forward, is as much an option for you as a leader at work as it is at home.

Even when caught in a pressurized situation, pause, take a deep breath in for 3-5 seconds, let it out slowly, mentally counting to 10, gather your thoughts, and request for time to revert on how best to address the challenge.

Then, do that.

3. Confirm Understanding

Each one of us experiences life not as it is but as we see it.

The words, actions, environments, and experiences of life from the womb to the day we stand as leaders, create the perceptions we now have of self and others.

From those perceptions, we allow an automatic and well-practiced train of thought to inform what we are facing, advising us of the words and actions to communicate to get what we think are the best outcomes.

But what if the mold from which we now think, speak, and act was built on faulty foundations?

What if what we think we are experiencing is not what is in fact happening? And what if, then, by responding to the perceived test, we become the fuel, rather than foam to the fire?

We each lead with blinders - our way of seeing, being, and doing. This is why before responding, it is prudent to first confirm understanding.

How do you do this in a practical way?


If you feel that you are being confronted and tested by a person? Request for time with the person to ask:

  1. Is something bothering you?

There may be nothing wrong and you just read that into the situation.

2. What exactly are you experiencing?

Get specifics so that you don't assume but find out exactly what the other person is going through, from their perspective.

3. Have I have contributed to it in any way?

You may not have done anything or if you have, it may not be what you assumed.

4. How can I make it right?

If there is tension coming from them about your action, they are best positioned to state what they think you can do to address that.

Consider the insights you gain from this conversation to work together towards resolution, confirming with them that they agree to the proposed plan, and are committed to cooperating with you to effective resolution.

Then, do that.

How to Respond When Your Leadership is Tested

  • Have you experienced insubordination?

  • Have you been asked to do something unethical?

  • Do you feel pressured to choose either your personal or professional life at the expense of the other?

  • Are you being discriminated against, or harassed?

  • Have you taken on more than you can handle?

  • Is someone on your team incompetent?

  • Is politics getting in the way of delivery?

You now have 3 workable strategies you can activate to choose how to respond to these and other situations that may test your leadership.


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