Tag Archives: Amber Armstrong

How To Lead Through Difficult Times

How do you lead through difficult times? What four key roles should all leaders play?  


This year has been one of the most challenging in modern times for business leaders, organisations and employees worldwide. And as many famous quotes allude to, nothing is tested more in challenging times than leadership. Many leaders step up and shine, yet just as many fall victim to stress, anxiety and frustration, leaving them a shadow of their former selves. 

So how do you make sure you’re the former? 

One person that knows how to lead in the best of times, as well as in the worst, is Vice-President of AI Applications and Blockchain at IBM, Amber Armstrong. Amber’s illustrious career at IBM started when she joined the company as an MBA graduate 13 years ago, and she’s quickly risen through the ranks. 

Amber joined us for our latest podcast episode in the IBM Career Bootcamp series to delve into all things leadership and in particular, how to lead through difficult times. 

Here’s what you’ll learn in the podcast:

What does being a great leader actually mean and how would you define your personal leadership style? 

Over the years, the definition of leadership has evolved enormously. Leaders, recognising that the more authoritarian styles of leading are no longer effective, have begun to diversify their styles away from command and control and towards a more inspiring vision of what leadership should be. But is inspiring others the sole role that leaders need to play nowadays? 

Not at all, according to Amber. Amber thinks that there are four things every leader needs to do in any organisation. In fact, Amber believes that these four things are so important that she had her team of executive managers agree to them as part of a leadership pact. 

Amber is clear on what she thinks these four things are: 

‘Leaders should, in my opinion, set the vision, communicate clearly, prioritise relentlessly and finally, coach.’

Throughout her career, Amber has used these four priority areas to not only lead others, but also to gather feedback and learn and what is and isn’t working. Beyond these things though, Amber has also put considerable thought and effort into her leadership style and has come up with a personal mantra that describes how she personally wants to lead: 

‘From a personal brand perspective, I aspire to be known as someone who is passionate, focused and kind.’ 

‘And in moments when things get particularly tough, there’s one particular thing I try to have more of.’ 

Discover what this is for Amber in the podcast.

How do leaders develop their own personal style? Should they do this through experience or through someone like a coach?

Amber’s personal leadership style is well-known and admired at IBM. But how do we all go about developing our own unique version of that? Amber has developed her style through a combination of experience and also through working with an executive coach, and she believes both of those things helped her get where she is today. 

From an experience perspective, Amber believes that it was through making mistakes and having empathy that she came to develop her current style: 

‘I joined IBM 13 years ago after I graduated from business school, and fortunately, I’ve been given a lot of opportunities here. This has led to many successes and also countless mistakes, but I’ve taken the opportunity to learn from each and every one of them.’ 

Amber remembers one particular period in her career where she came to understand the critical importance of kindness as an element of her personal leadership style: 

‘At one point, I was told I have to give a lot of people bad news, news which would affect their personal lives.’ 

‘I put up a sign at my desk with my mantra, the words passionate, focused and kind. I felt such comfort having those words there, it helped me to turn them into a reality throughout that difficult time.’  

Recently, Amber also started working with an executive coach who has further helped her shape her leadership style. This has been beneficial for one specific reason, she says. 

Find out what that reason is in the podcast.

Can you lead without necessarily having a leadership position? 

Amber has had an extremely successful career, and now manages a large number of people, including fifteen other managers. But for those of us who may not be in such senior positions, or perhaps those of us who may not be leading anyone at all, is it still possible to be a leader? 

Absolutely, Amber says. 

In fact, there’s one thing she thinks all leaders need to do, regardless of our level of seniority: 

‘If you want to lead, you need to take care of yourself first.’ 

‘For me, I do three things to take care of myself. Firstly, I run a mile, I make sure I sweat. Secondly, I walk 5,000 steps every day and then thirdly, I meditate for ten minutes. Self-care is so important.’ 

Beyond self-care, Amber also wants to let us all in on a little secret, and it’s an important one. In a nutshell, even leaders with a great amount of authority (those who are senior and have a lot of responsibility), don’t really have authority unless they can garner respect. Amber explains: 

‘To be a leader, you need people to respect you, you need them to trust you. So even if you’re an authority figure, sure, you can force people to do things but that isn’t leadership.’ 

‘Leadership is about creating clarity and building respect. You need to be able to influence others in a positive way.’ 

Also in the podcast: 

  • What needs to change about our leadership styles in these challenging times 
  • The pink recession 

And much more. 

Amber Armstrong’s podcast on leading through difficult times is part of our IBM Sterling Career Bootcamp. Designed to power your mind and help you excel, the Bootcamp consists of 6 electrifying podcasts with internationally renowned experts and speakers. Sign up here if you haven’t already.