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Redefining Leadership for Challenging Conditions

Defining the challenge

There is no doubt we are in challenging business conditions. Australia's Real GDP rose by just 0.1 per cent over the first quarter of this year, with the country teetering on the edge of recession according to the headlines. In April 2024 the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose modestly to 4.1%, and whilst this is a minor increase, unemployment is still at very low levels by historical standards. A combination of challenging market conditions with ongoing talent shortages makes the leadership skills required to navigate this environment even more nuanced than ever.

This was borne out in an event I spoke at last week, appropriately called, ‘Redefining Recruitment Leadership’. Aimed at Founders and CEOs of recruitment and staffing businesses, who are at the forefront of this challenge, it was fascinating to hear directly from the audience. A word-cloud poll of the question, “In one or two words what is the biggest challenge in recruitment leadership currently?” showed the top themes to be:

1.     Growing your client base in changed market conditions

2.     Identifying and hiring top talent

3.     Creating & harnessing motivation

Given the current economy and the conversations I have with many clients across diverse sectors, these themes seem consistent regardless of industry.


Three steps to redefining leadership

There are three ways I propose you start with redefining your leadership. As with anything worthwhile, this is of course much more nuanced and complex than three simple steps. Within each of these steps, there is more depth than can be covered in this article but using these tips as your starting point will help you to reframe your leadership in the complexities of today’s climate.


1.     Think of purpose as a journey

There is currently, understandably, significant focus on the financial results within organisations. Sometimes as leaders, we forget that the result is exactly that – the outcome of what we are doing, not why we are doing it. If we are not clear on why we are doing something it is harder to be motivated to achieve a result.

To counteract that, we need to think about purpose. Some organisations have a lot of talk about purpose in business, some don’t have enough, or indeed any at all. But very few discuss purpose as a journey. That is, (i) linking your personal and professional goals, (ii) understanding why you want to achieve them, (iii) your pathways to get there and (iv) your agency to choose alternate pathways when obstacles come up, as they inevitably will.

Using this approach is linked to Charles Snyder’s Hope Theory. It is much more likely to see you achieve the financial result, giving you motivation to get to the financial number you need.


2.     Understand how you provide meaningful work

Organisations whose people are engaged in meaningful work perform better even during times of downturn or downsizing, and individuals who are in meaningful work are less stressed, have better career advancement and have higher engagement.

It is important to understand that everyone’s path to meaningful work is unique and that there are four factors of meaningful work:

·        individual,

·        job,

·        organisational and

·        societal (and many subsets within those factors),

Also that the factors of meaningful work can change over time.  If you can understand and articulate well how you provide meaningful work, you will attract the people for whom there is a match, and motivation becomes an easier topic to address.

3.     Adopt a growth mindset

You need to learn about, personally adopt and then build out an internal approach to having a growth mindset.  If you are not familiar with the work of Dr Carol S Dweck, I cannot recommend it highly enough. The view you adopt of yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life, and by adopting a growth mindset you can significantly improve your outcomes.

A growth mindset is “based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others.”

In the context of redefining leadership, you can improve outcomes in six important aspects of work:

·        how you develop your skills and intelligence

·        how worried you are about how others perceive you

·        how hard you try

·        how you deal with challenges

·        how well you take feedback

·        how well you cope with making mistakes.

Imagine for a moment a team where everyone has a great mindset in those areas. Wouldn’t that make your leadership journey easier?


In summary

No doubt we are in complex market conditions, requiring more nuanced leadership skills, but try developing the three suggestions of;

1.     Think of purpose as a journey

2.     Understand how you provide meaningful work

3.     Adopt a growth mindset

You will find you can navigate more easily the stormy waters you find yourself in.


Author of ‘Meaningful Work: Unlock Your Unique Path to Career Fulfilment’, Nina Mapson Bone is a people strategist, consultant, chair and keynote speaker. She consults with boards, CEOs, founders and executives on bridging the disconnect between strategy and the needs, motivations and capabilities of their people. Nina’s executive career has spanned three continents and diverse sectors. She was previously the Managing Director of Beaumont People, where she led a period of significant growth for the organisation, during which it was recognised with multiple awards. For more information visit


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