We live in turbulent times. Brexit, economic uncertainty and political upheaval have all shaken public confidence in the predictable and made one thing clear: no one can claim to know what lies ahead.
Nonetheless, leaders are still expected – perhaps during uncertain times more than ever – to steer a steady ship and inspire calm, even if the way ahead is virtually impossible to see. Luckily, there are several ways leaders can take the helm confidently during times of chaos. Here, I’m going to share with you five effective leadership techniques for forging ahead through uncertainty.
Accept UncertaintyThe only predictable thing about life is, ironically, its unpredictability. Markets rise and fall, governments come and go, and the scandalous becomes mainstream in the space of a generation. While some periods of time are more stable than others, nothing is ever static.
What does this mean for individuals looking to strengthen their leadership skills? It means that you need to accept the chaos, and learn to lead in a constant state of flux. A bad leader expends all their energy struggling to stay afloat, or even worse, trying to retrace their steps to how things used to be. A good leader, on the other hand, rides the waves of uncertainty towards a brighter future.
So learn to accept uncertainty. Work with it. Better yet, embrace it. After all, as the famous American industrialist J. Paul Getty put it, “Without the element of uncertainty, the bringing off of even the greatest business triumph would be dull, routine and eminently unsatisfying.”
Acknowledge the ElephantWhen the future is uncertain, it’s natural for people to worry. And when people are worried, they talk. Soon, the rumours are abounding and employee morale, engagement and productivity are plummeting. As the wartime posters proclaimed: “Loose lips sink ships”.
As a leader, you can’t afford to bury your head in the sand during tough times. It’s your job to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Communicate with your team: admit there’s an elephant. Don’t try to gloss over it or minimise it. Just let them know what you’re doing about it. Even if you don’t have a solution or any concrete information to share right away, it’s better to act sooner rather than later, so that rumours and anxieties are kept in check and your team know their leader is aware of, and confronting, the issue.
Establish Clear Lines of CommunicationOnce you’ve acknowledged the elephant, it’s essential that you keep the lines of communication between you are your team open. People are still going to talk, so you should do you best to ensure it’s you they’re talking to.
There are several ways you can do this, from arranging regular ‘touch base’ meetings to keeping your team in the loop with frequent, relevant updates. Ask people to share their worst case and best case scenarios for the future. Listen to their concerns and fears, and find out what their priorities are. All of these insights will be essential for the next stage…React and AdaptIt’s not enough simply to reassure your team. At the same time, you’ve got to start charting a new course onwards and upwards.
While major changes can produce challenges that seem insurmountable, what they actually create are a ripple effect of smaller obstacles (not to mention a few opportunities). So take a deep breath and tackle one thing at a time. React to challenges, and learn from these experiences to adapt your approach going forward. If you can’t create a perfect solution, create an imperfect one. The route to success is rarely linear; sometimes you have to take detours, but the important thing is that you keep moving forwards.Keep an Eye on the HorizonA good leader can respond to challenges. A great leader can pre-empt them.
A navigator should be able to scan the distance for warning signs and know which way the wind is blowing. While no one can expect you to know exactly what is going to happen, over time, you’ll develop a form of creative intelligence that enables to you recognise potential storms on the horizon, and to take the necessary evasive or defensive action.The result? An organisation that’s resilient in the face of uncertainty.
So there you have it: five secrets for leading during unpredictable times. By employing these techniques, you’ll be better equipped to weather the storms that lie ahead. And, more importantly, you’ll be better positioned to provide your teams with the high-level strategic direction they need in these difficult times.
By Michael Maynard, founding partner, MaynardLeigh Associates