For a small business owner, leadership skills are never more important than they are during tough times — whether it's a pandemic, a threatened business closure, or a recession. Your employees are counting on you for their livelihoods, and that's a major responsibility even in normal times. These tips may help you lead at the top of your game through your current crisis and beyond.

1. Lead by example

If you want your team to have your back, don’t ask them to take risks or actions that you wouldn't yourself. Show them that you are putting your money where your mouth is, that you're ready to make sacrifices when you have to, and that you’re willing to take the first jump into uncharted waters.

2. Develop razor-sharp focus

Set aside projects that don't help the business thrive in the current environment, and focus on areas that do. You’re may be working on a much smaller margin than before, so it’s more important than ever to focus on the bottom line and avoid getting distracted by unimportant tasks. Make sure your team knows your new priorities and where they should be devoting their time and efforts.

3. Look forward rather than backward

The past is the past. What worked for your business before may not work any longer. Short-term or long-term changes may need to happen. Whether that means internal changes, such as remote work or office modifications, or changes to your business model itself, it's time to focus on how you can succeed going forward, as opposed to how you can get back to the normal you enjoyed in previous years.

4. Embrace your team's humanity (and display your own)

Have open conversations with your team that show that you're all in this together and share common goals, but also share common anxieties.Be empathetic and show them that you experience many of the same feelings they do. Find ways to support your team's mental health as well as your own, while ensuring them that you are doing everything in your power to make the best of the situation. Keep your cool under stress. Understand that disagreements or frustrations may increase due to stress, but don’t let them destroy your cooperative team spirit.

5. Be as flexible as possible

It’s never easy to make changes in midstream, especially when those changes involve a team of people with different personalities, circumstances and needs. Be willing to loosen long-standing restrictions if it will help morale. Listening to requests from employees and making changes to help them adjust to the “new normal” will go a long way toward increasing productivity and well as attitudes.

6. Delegate, but maintain accountability

Require regular updates or status reports, even if things may be a little chaotic. You're still steering the ship, so always make sure that you remain on course. If things aren't getting done, find out why, and make the necessary adjustments. Your business needs to maintain top efficiency to get back on track.

7. Concentrate on communication

Communication is an absolute must, and it starts with you. Reach out to team members regularly. Check in individually and hold regular team meetings. Take advantage of solutions like Slack® or Microsoft® Teams that let the team communicate with one another and stay on the same page. Be clear that you're always looking for feedback on how to improve any aspect of work life or the business itself. Make yourself available.

8. Be transparent

Part of open communication is being transparent with your employees. Keep them in the loop and be real with them. If there are specific problems, talk about them honestly. Don't hide the truth in an effort to reduce anxiety. Your team deserves to know the current state of things, and what their leaders predict for the future. You're in this together, and the more up-to-speed everyone is, the more your team can come together to find solutions.

9. Stay in the know, make decisions accordingly

As the leader, it's also your responsibility to understand the industry and the market. Make time to keep up with the latest information to help inform the decisions you make and the actions you take. That doesn't mean having knee-jerk reactions. It simply means staying in the know and having a greater understanding of the state of your industry.

10. Recognize good work

Finally, take the time to recognize when team members are doing work that helps the company thrive and survive. It makes a person feel good when their work is appreciated, and it makes others want to show their own value. Both of these things can lead to a happier and more motivated team.

It's never been easy to be a true leader, but during tough times, leadership matters more than ever.