We live in unprecedented times of uncertainty and change as organizations and teams experience fast-moving transformations like never before. During these times, great leaders think and act decisively and re-prioritize needs while setting an example for others in the team. This process can feel personal and overwhelming. Learning to understand the human process is essential to help you manage your emotions and find ways to cope, stay healthy, focused, and productive.
Leading through uncertainty is a significant aspect of a leader’s job but even with that said, sometimes circumstances and challenges can push even the most seasoned leaders to the limits of their capabilities.
To successfully lead others, leaders must first learn to lead themselves. Granted that each leader faces unique complexities, we will point out ten notable strategies that can accelerate your ability to learn, evolve, and navigate complex circumstances.
Transparency engineers confidence! If you aren’t open with your team, they’ll presumably imagine the worst. Although it is unnecessary to share absolutely everything with team members as only you can decide how much to share, don’t forget to give them sufficient context when you notify your team of a recent development. When you fail to do so, they might misinterpret the information or not comprehend where it fits in the bigger picture.
Additionally, you can personalize your brand by increasing transparency. When situations are uncertain, a level of trust with your team and customers can come in handy.
A popular saying goes thus;
“If you want to travel fast, go alone. If you want to travel far, go together.”
Undoubtedly, most leaders may feel isolated while undergoing continuous change and leading through uncertainty in various life situations. This sense of isolation can stem from a feeling of wanting to solve issues alone. Still, as the complexity of the workload increases, a natural tendency will be to heighten the focus and individual efforts. However, this can be an effective strategy when facing relatively short-term challenges with known solutions. In the same vein, using this approach to address challenges where the full scope of issues and interdependencies are blurry can be a disaster.
At this point, it is critical to inculcate the practice of intentionally reaching out to your network and beyond for insight and perspective. Reaching out to people with valuable opinions and varying experiences, you might want to know how they would look at a similar situation, what would be their point of view, etc. Even without a direct response, you can plug into their thinking and sources.
In a complex environment, the scope of work is continually shifting; thus, striving for perfection can seem somewhat futile. Rather than perfection, shoot for progress, anticipate mistakes, and recognize your ability to constantly course-correct when such situations arise.
It may not be easy, but to let go of perfectionism, recognize your specific core fears or triggered traits, such as ego, failure mindset, or fear of making a wrong decision. Letting go of assumptions associated with these fears can allow you to ease off perfectionism and accept that mistakes and failures can be expected in any circumstance.
Given that our brains are hardwired to look upon the lack of certainty as a risk or threat, it’s physiologically normal to feel worn out when faced with unfamiliar situations. This is especially true for high achievers with careers thriving on always knowing or finding the “right” answer. These unpleasant feelings can slowly become a significant barrier to learning, future growth, and ultimately performance in general.
Instead of pushing these feelings aside, we must learn to acknowledge and embrace the discomfort associated with an uncertain circumstance as an expected and regular part of the learning process. As a leader, you should;
Trust is usually broken when people resist change and opposing views emanate in uncertainty. There is a tendency to doubt anyone with contrasting opinions, leading to disconnection and a disorganized team.
In light of that, keep in mind that disconnection and resistance are part of the process while leading through uncertainty. Uncover ways to help people feel safe to share their experiences and trust that everyone is giving their best, creating a space for differences in opinion.
Be open to hearing from those with a different approach and thinking from yours. Be observant enough to notice where people disconnect and give them space to do so when they feel overwhelmed.
A significant part of a leader’s job is motivating teams and offering guidance. Uncertain situations make decision-making difficult for everyone and complex to deal with conflicting information and opinions.
In a team setting, leading through uncertainty involves strategically aligning what matters and those within your control. It is critical to note the team's status before you can help them cope and adjust. Your backing and guidance can be a significant signal in supporting your team through this time of change.
Uncertainty launches us out of our comfort zones. Thus, demanding creativity, innovations, and more resilience. Focused leaders who can see the big picture amid complex and unfamiliar situations are often very strategic during such times.
Every setback conveys a lesson and acts as a stepping stone for an intelligent leader. With every disruption, an opportunity presents itself. Try not to play defense at such periods. Instead, be proactive and communicate with your team to conquer the feeling of powerlessness that leading through uncertainty often fosters.
It is critical to quickly identify something that’ll aid the organization’s success and swing into action pragmatically and decisively while leading through uncertainty. Be careful not to overreach but get the team into top shape and do the best possible work.
Have the grit to step into the unknown wholeheartedly and with confidence. Build up your capacity to withstand failure, recover, try again and encourage others to do the same.
During the periods of leading through uncertainty and change, leaders and organizations who flourish tend to embrace change as an opportunity to design a new vision and strategy. They look forward to enhancing processes, seeking new markets, pinpointing areas for greater profitability, and viewing transformation as an opportunity to learn and evolve.
Such leaders and companies will often surpass the trend and witness advanced productivity and progressive employee engagement with a rekindled sense of pride and ownership.
Leaders will find the need for a reservoir of positive experiences to pull inspiration from critical in times of need. Even without personally having such positive experiences, they can always benefit from the stories of others. Seek to understand the experiences of others, including respected superiors, elders, leadership development professionals, teachers, and others. Consulting peers and team members should always be an option in addition to nationally and globally recognized thought leaders.
By words or deeds, either deliberate or unintended, Leaders can impact people by providing purpose, direction, and inspiration to accomplish a mission.
Similarly, leadership and uncertainty go hand in hand. Good leadership is necessary to overcome situations ranging from a global pandemic, economic insecurity, a fierce political landscape, institutional racism, environmental concerns, and several others. And to gain insights, we gathered responses from renowned world leaders on what leading through uncertainty entails.
1. Nadja West, a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General, shared her experience leading through uncertainty during her Wednesday keynote session, sponsored by ICMA-RC, at ICMA's digital event, UNITE. She emphasized that setting the tone as a leader provided the motivation and direction to stay on track despite the turbulence. In her example, she pointed out that it was important for every individual to understand how their job contributed to the mission.
“It was my sole responsibility as their leader to guide and ensure they pictured themselves as important to accomplishing the mission, no matter the hindrance or the distractions at the time.”
2. Satya Nadella, Chairman and CEO of Microsoft, while speaking at Hello Monday, a show about the changing nature of work, highlighted that leaders must shift from a “know it all” to a “learn it all” mindset. This re-engineered mindset can help lessen the discomfort by eliminating the pressure for you to have all the answers.
He also shared that leadership revolves around helping people realize their best potential. Practicing empathy for the team is perhaps the best way to make career progress because if you have compassion for your people, they will perform their best work.
3. Daniel Goleman, an author, psychologist, and science journalist with over a decade worth of experience writing for The New York Times highlighted in his 6 Leadership Styles thus;
“Leaders should try to show enthusiasm and positivity to address the uncertainty and flux, adjusting their leadership style to become more ‘commanding’ and ‘pacesetting’ in Daniel Goleman’s terms, in order to reduce fear, give strong direction to drive and implement vital changes, uplift teams, and offer stability.”
4. Martin Luther King Jr. was a social activist and Baptist minister who played a pivotal role in the American civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s. Through peaceful protest, he led the revolution on equality and human rights for African Americans, the economically disadvantaged, and all victims of injustice. Paraphrasing one of his speech out of many, he said:
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but how he operates in uncertainty and where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.”
Martin Luther King Jr. showcased that the centrality of vocation is serving others, and he stayed committed to his mission even in times of adversity. By valuing the diverse perspective of others, he let that inform his leadership.
At its worst, uncertainty can cause anxiety, polarization, and disconnection. Leaders and teams can evade this through collaborations and striving to understand and sustain each other.
At its best, uncertainty creates an opportunity to improve the status quo. It encourages deeper connection and understanding. When people are heard, understood, and valued, their commitment to the team and the cause increases. Leaders can grow, and teams align.
According to Charles Darwin, It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; not the strongest, but those able to adapt and adjust best to the changing environment in which it finds itself.
Uncertainty is formed by turbulent change and presents an opportunity for leaders and teams to jointly make a difference in the world.
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