I’m a manager in a struggling private equity division. Morale is low, and I’m losing confidence in my abilities to motivate the team and make decisions. How can I lead more effectively?

YOU’RE in a very common situation in the City at the moment, with small teams of highly-paid and highly-qualified people coming under an awful lot of stress as a result of the recession. It’s easy to imagine that the best way to motivate a team in this circumstance is to get them to create ever more competitiveness between themselves, and our research shows that a lot of people take this route – but it’s a huge mistake. It simply creates conflict, and that works against both results and happy workers. You need to focus on helping them to work with each other and cooperate, and that requires you to think about the role model you set yourself, because how teams see their leader behaving is what drives that cooperation.

Recessions are actually an interesting time for innovation and creativity, because a lot of the old ideas lose their value. Right now, the thing a team leader can really do is create what I call an “igniting vision” – an aim, idea or task that’s so interesting people are really compelled and excited by it. If you’re not able to excite people about working together to achieve something, they’re going to disappear into their own anxiety. It can’t be lightweight, it needs to be relevant and consequential, and you can consult the team when coming up with it and get them involved. This is a characteristic of productive teams, and it’s the role of the team leader to create that, to say “this is the way we’re going” and lead them towards it.

Lastly, authenticity is really important. When people are under pressure, they might feel like behaving like someone else, but you have to behave as yourself. Keep your own personal values and attitudes, don’t try and create a persona because it won’t convince.