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5 Keys to Leading through Uncertainty

5 Keys to Leading through Uncertainty InteraWorks blog post

Leadership can be a challenge under the best circumstances as we attempt to balance current and future needs, personalities in the workplace, ongoing communication challenges, and more.

When we’re faced with leading through uncertainty, many of the old ways of doing things go right out the window and we are compelled to address leadership in brand new ways. The upside of the experience of leading through uncertain times is the positive impact it can have on how you lead all the time.

Keep in mind that leadership is a state of being, not a title. Often it’s during times of change or need that leadership appears in unexpected places.

Take advantage of the opportunities you may have to up-level your leadership now, no matter how much uncertainty you and your team may be facing in this moment. Here are 5 ways to do just that.

1. Take care of yourself (so you can be of service to others).

While this may seem simple, it is still a critical fact of life and business: teams will not succeed if leaders fall apart. Leading though uncertainty requires energy, so make sure you get what you need to bring your best self to the situation each day.

Key Actions:

  • Start with the basics, such as taking good physical care of yourself.
  • Create space to clear your head and change your internal energy through mental breaks, reading non-work-related material, and listening to music.
  • Seek support from peers, both inside and outside your organization. Slow down enough to think and plan before moving directly into action.

2. Communicate – a LOT!

Change can come quickly and what seemed to be a clear path yesterday may need course correcting as new information becomes available (Coronavirus, anyone?). Clear and frequent communication can be the tool that keeps your team aligned and on course with minimal disruption and maximum agility in unpredictable situations.

Key Actions:

  • Don’t wait until you think you have all the answers. Nobody knows what might happen and it would be inauthentic to pretend otherwise.
  • Be sure to review, reiterate, reinforce, and reassure. Clarity is key and regular communication is how you maintain it.
  • Remember that communication is an ongoing process, not a single email or meeting. Send out regular updates, even if it is to say nothing has changed. Schedule individual and/or group calls and keep in touch with the team.
  • With people being overwhelmed by uncertainty, be certain in your own communication. Answer these questions:
    –   What do we know? (even if it is just as simple as “We are in a crisis and things are
    changing constantly.” It’s validating to hear.
    –   What don’t we know?
    –   What can you do?
    –   When will you hear from me again?

3. Focus on Shared Goals

Worry, anxiety, and distraction are always challenging – even more when leading through uncertainty. Focusing on shared goals provides both stability and a path forward.

Key Actions:

  • Collaborate early and often to help your team maintain its focus and continuity as an effective unit.
  • Nurture a safe environment for sharing to make sure you get full participation and contribution.

4. Create ways to connect

Connection plays a critical role in maintaining a healthy team culture; even more so in times of uncertainty. Get creative!

Key Actions:

  • Keep regular meetings and touch points on the schedule, even if they move to virtual or non-traditional environments
  • Utilize virtual happy hours or unstructured meetings for personal check-ins and open discussion to build cohesiveness and morale.
  • Ask others to share their ideas. You could end up with some new traditions you want to keep.

5. Adjust expectations and create room for new choices

Let’s be honest – predictability is an illusion. Stay flexible and be willing to look at the situation from every possible perspective without getting stuck in “the way we’ve always done it.” When business as usual isn’t possible, it’s time to adjust expectations and re-evaluate to find places where you can take advantage of the current situation to prepare for what’s next.

Key Actions:

  • Take a look at your work through a new lens to see where you can change focus to another area of the business that may suddenly be more viable, especially if changes eliminated or reduced your current client sales and opportunities.
  • Consider partnering in new ways with clients to create something that supports everyone.
  • Review back burner projects and ideas to see if they may be good fits in the changing landscape.
  • Make good use of downtime by getting in some professional development, especially where it can help you hit the ground running when things settle down.

The bottom line

Leading through uncertainty requires more than ability to deal with disruption. It also requires the abilities to look ahead, anticipate what might be next, and create an agile approach to moving forward. Strategy is more important than ever. Look for places where you might have an advantage in the changing market while building internal skills so your team will be prepared to meet future needs.

Things will eventually settle into whatever the new normal is going to be and we all want to be ready to thrive when it does. These practices can strengthen your skills for leading through uncertainty while keeping you and your team moving in the right direction.

If you are a leader or director in need of additional support during this exceptional time in the world, consider joining us for Resiliency@Work – Leading through Uncertainty, a 2-hour workshop we are offering at no cost to assist leaders in navigating the ongoing changes and challenges of this time. For more information, contact us at info@interaworks.com.