Being A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times


Connection: Open and transparent communication is critical during turbulent times. For example, during a significant shift in business strategy, a company might hold regular town hall meetings, encourage dialogue, and ensure that every team member understands their role in the transition, fostering a sense of connection and unity.

Tony Martignetti is a trusted advisor, leadership coach and facilitator, best-selling author, podcast host, and speaker. He brings together over 25 years of business and leadership experience and extreme curiosity to elevate leaders and equip them with the tools to navigate through change and unlock their true potential. He has been recognized by Thinkers360 as one of the top 10 Leadership Coaches and by LeadersHum as one of the Biggest Voices in Leadership in 2023. Tony hosts The Virtual Campfire podcast and is the author of “Climbing the Right Mountain: Navigating the Journey to An Inspired Life” and the co-author of “Secrets of Next-Level Entrepreneurs.”

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I have had an interesting journey. I grew up as a passionate artist with aspirations to shape the world through my creativity, but I found myself as a pre-med student at Northeastern University. Eventually, I pivoted into business and ended up working in the life sciences industry as a finance and strategy executive. So, you could say I was exploring many paths and staying connected to many worlds.

During my corporate career, I worked with some amazing organizations to bring life-saving therapies to people suffering from rare diseases and other chronic illnesses. Every time I had the opportunity to meet a patient or a caregiver impacted by my work, it reinforced my passion and my resolve to keep working hard to make an impact.

I experienced the ups and downs of a challenging industry, working in both excellent and not-so-excellent environments. After over 20 years, I started to feel like something was missing. I had outward success, but inside I felt unfulfilled. This initial feeling led me to make some bold moves that got me to where I am today. Now, I am utilizing my creativity and business experience to help leaders live more fulfilling and impactful lives.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

This lesson was early in my career, but it stuck with me. I was asked to facilitate a training program for our European team on a new financial software platform at our regional hub in Ireland. I had prepared for weeks and had a strong command of the material. I flew in the night before and got to bed at a reasonable hour. This was going to be great!

The following day I woke up to a colleague calling me to see where I was. The training was about to start, and I overslept. Every traveler’s nightmare had come true: I overslept and was about to be late for my own training. I quickly pulled myself together, scrambled out the door, and drove the half-hour to the meeting site. As if being late wasn’t embarrassing enough, all eyes locked on me as I walked into the room of attendees, all seated and patiently waiting for the day to begin. Not a great first impression! I made it through, but ever since then, I always leave room for the unexpected.

Though it was quite an embarrassing start, the incident taught me invaluable lessons about the importance of contingencies and planning for the unexpected, especially when dealing with different time zones or new environments. Now, no matter how well-prepared I am content-wise, I always plan for potential disruptions and set multiple alarms! It is not just about mastering the material; you have to be physically present and on time to deliver it.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Early in my career in the life sciences, I scheduled a series of “curiosity” conversations to learn more about my company’s mission, different career paths available and to understand the industry better. One of those conversations was with Jim Geraghty, SVP of Corporate Development at Genzyme Corporation. Jim generously shared his insights and listened intently to my perspective on where I was and what my aspirations were. As a result of this dialogue, he recognized that I was eager to learn more about business strategy and alliance management, and an opportunity to be a part of the team that dealt with emerging businesses opened up. I am grateful to Jim for making the space in his day to nurture my growth and allow me to express myself authentically, and also for him being fully present during that conversation. When a person creates the space to truly listen to you, it is the mark of a great leader.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, and what was its purpose?

I am a firm believer in purpose-driven businesses; in fact, that is why it is in our company name. When we are driven by meaningful and inspiring purpose, everything else comes together. At Inspired Purpose Partners, we aim to guide leaders to clarify their purpose and vision so they can transform their professional lives and realize their true potential. On a more personal level, my purpose is to see the masterpiece in everyone and create a space for them to reveal it. I genuinely believe that everyone has something amazing waiting to come out; they just need the right conditions to allow this masterpiece to be revealed.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

When I stepped into the role of the first finance leader at Sarepta Therapeutics, it was a critical and challenging time in the company’s evolution. We were relocating our operations from Bothell, Washington, to our new corporate headquarters. My primary task was to build a new finance team and simultaneously ensure a smooth transition from the previous team. To add to this role, I was also overseeing the build-out of the new headquarters and ensuring we maintained the financial reporting requirements of a public company.

The biggest challenge was maintaining the engagement and morale of the outgoing team while onboarding and integrating the new one. The uncertainty of the transition was palpable, but I believed in transparent and empathetic leadership. I held regular team meetings where I openly communicated the company’s plan and how each member was integral to the transition.

We devised a comprehensive exit plan for the outgoing team that recognized their contributions and ensured they felt valued until their last day. For the new team, I implemented an intensive onboarding program that not only focused on roles and responsibilities but also on the company’s vision and values.

The key to leading during these uncertain times was striking a balance between managing the outgoing team with appreciation and respect while instilling a sense of purpose and belonging in the new team. This experience taught me that leadership during difficult times often means navigating emotional landscapes with as much skill as the operational ones.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

I had my doubts along the way, for sure. My motivation was primarily on not letting down the people counting on me, especially my employees, the leadership team, and my family. Another stakeholder who was at the core of what drove and motivated me was the people we serve, the patients. We wanted to keep moving forward to ensure everything ultimately benefits them. The patients were counting on us.

I’m an author, and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?

As an author myself, I couldn’t agree more! This might be the toughest question you have asked because I read too many books. One of the books that impacted me the most was “The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life” by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. I have read it more than three times at this point.

It is truly a fantastic book and has reserved a spot on my “Leaders are Readers” book list. There are so many great insights that will change how you look at life, but the most powerful one is that “Everything in life is an invention.” Think about that for a minute! You can choose to look at your life in a new way. One of the best ways to do this is to focus on the possibilities surrounding you in any situation rather than slipping into the default mode of measuring and comparing your life to others.

I had the honor of meeting co-author Benjamin Zander; he is quite a remarkable human being. I am not sure how he did it, but he convinced an entire room of leaders to sing in German, which didn’t sound terrible. At least, that is how I remember it.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

The most critical role of a leader during challenging times is to remain grounded amidst the chaos. Turbulent times are full of uncertainty and stress, and it is easy for teams to lose their direction. A leader’s job is to be a steady beacon, demonstrating calm and composed resilience.

But being grounded is not merely about maintaining an outward calm. It is about having the mental clarity to make informed, deliberate decisions rather than falling into reactionary traps. Leaders should approach every challenge with intent, assessing the situation objectively, considering all available data, and weighing the potential outcomes.

Challenging times also require leaders to maintain a strong vision for the future. They need to remind their teams of the organization’s mission and reinforce the belief that they can navigate the storm together.

In essence, during challenging times, a leader’s role is to be a grounding presence, make intentional decisions, and continually illuminate the path ahead, fostering a sense of confidence and determination within the team.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate, and engage their team?

Leaders who build deep, authentic connections with their teams can boost morale in challenging times, and trust is the foundation of these connections. It is about more than just your professional experience and competence; it is about showing your genuine self, including your strengths and vulnerabilities. When leaders reveal their true selves, they create a safe space for others to do the same. Once you create a safe and trusting space, you can encourage open communication through active listening, understanding concerns, and providing clear, transparent information. This open dialogue fosters trust and cooperation, and as I frequently say, inspiration comes from honest conversation.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

Communicating difficult news requires transparency, empathy, and clarity. With your team, it is crucial to deliver the news in person, if possible, and create a safe environment for them to process the information. Start by expressing the company’s understanding of the impact of this news and follow with clear, honest facts. Allow time for questions and respond sincerely, even when the answer may be, “I don’t know yet.”

When it comes to customers, clear and concise communication is critical. Use straightforward language to explain the situation, expressing empathy for any inconvenience caused. Present any solutions or actions the company is taking to rectify the situation, if applicable.

Whether with your team or customers, maintaining a continuous line of communication following the initial announcement is critical. This demonstrates that you are engaged in the issue and committed to finding solutions or navigating through the difficult situation. Remember, authenticity and transparency go a long way in preserving trust during challenging times.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

Navigating unpredictable times requires adaptive and flexible planning. As Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” The value lies not in the plan itself but in the planning process. When I talk about planning, it is about anticipating scenarios, strategizing responses, and creating a roadmap for action. Leaders should identify potential future scenarios in uncertain times, no matter how unlikely they seem, and craft strategies for each one. This method prepares the team to pivot and adapt to whatever the future holds.

Leaders should also emphasize building resilience and flexibility in their plans. This involves creating systems that can withstand shocks and recover quickly, as well as fostering a culture of agility and learning within the team. And don’t forget about communication. Leaders need to ensure that their team understands the plan, the reasons behind it, and their individual roles in its execution. This empowers the team to act decisively when circumstances change.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

The “number one principle” to guide a company or even a person through turbulent times is one I frequently use with my clients. It is called “Expand your vision, Narrow your focus.” This principle acts as a compass during the uncertainties of business ups and downs. Expanding your vision means understanding the bigger picture — the market trends, customer needs, and broader societal shifts. It involves staying curious, continuously learning, and being open to new ideas and perspectives. An expansive vision equips you to anticipate changes, identify opportunities, and innovate.

Narrowing your focus means concentrating on the few critical things that matter most to your business’s success. In turbulent times, it is easy to get distracted by the noise. Narrowing your focus ensures that your resources — time, energy, and money — are channeled toward these critical areas that will drive the most significant impact.

This principle encourages you to remain adaptable to changes while staying true to your strategic priorities, providing a focused guide during turbulent times.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during challenging times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

I have seen many good leaders make mistakes during challenging periods. The best thing they can do is learn from them so they can ensure that they don’t repeat them. Here are a few that come to mind:

Companies often leave employees, customers, and stakeholders in the dark during difficult times. This fuels anxiety and uncertainty. To avoid this, it is critical to maintain transparent and regular communication. Share as much information as possible about what’s happening and what actions are being taken.

Businesses under stress often resort to immediate cost-cutting measures at the expense of long-term growth. You have to be careful to balance short-term necessities with long-term strategy. Consider the long-term implications of each decision.

When times are tough, the focus tends to shift to survival and profitability, often neglecting employee morale. Keep in mind that your employees are integral to your business. Prioritize their well-being and maintain a supportive work environment.

Many businesses resist change, sticking to old ways of doing things even when circumstances call for adaptability. Embrace flexibility and adapt your business model, processes, or products/services to the changing environment.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times?

During uncertain times we need to lead with something I call Grounded Leadership which is based on a few fundamental principles:

Courage: Leaders must make tough, sometimes unpopular decisions during crisis periods. A business might need to restructure and cut costs, including painful layoffs, to ensure the company’s survival. Courage involves transparent communication and making those hard choices for the company’s long-term health.

Curiosity: Leaders should embrace uncertainty as an opportunity to learn and innovate. For instance, a drop in overall market sales might reveal an unexpected demand in a niche area. Instead of being consumed by the downturn, a curious leader might investigate this further, leading to a pivot to a new market opportunity.

Creativity: Uncertain times call for out-of-the-box solutions. When in-person interactions are limited, as in a pandemic, companies shifted to networking and team-building events in a virtual format, using creative ways to keep engagement high and sustain company culture.

Compassion: Leaders need to show empathy toward their team’s struggles. For example, during company-wide transitions, leaders could hold regular check-ins, provide support, and ensure every employee feels heard and supported, fostering a compassionate work environment.

Connection: Open and transparent communication is critical during turbulent times. For example, during a significant shift in business strategy, a company might hold regular town hall meetings, encourage dialogue, and ensure that every team member understands their role in the transition, fostering a sense of connection and unity.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If you are willing to feel everything, you can have anything.” This quote comes from Peter Bregman, and when I read this quote for the first time, it felt like Peter gave me the words to describe the journey I had embarked on when I left the corporate world to become who I really am. I knew I had to have the emotional courage to explore deeper and answer the questions I was often afraid to answer.

How can our readers further follow your work?

The best way to follow my work is at my website:, or on LinkedIn at On my website, you can find links to my book, “Climbing the Right Mountain: Navigating the Journey to An Inspired Life,” and to my podcast, “The Virtual Campfire.”

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

This article was originally published in Authority Magazine. You can check it out here.


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