7 Ways To Lead In Uncertain Times

Laurie Riihimaki

The pandemic has caused a drastic shift in the world. It is a transformation that has reached across the seas and to all parts of the globe causing panic and fear. Everything feels as if it’s moving at hyper-speed, the facts being thrown at us by the media feel scary and questionable, and the overall tone of life is drenched in ambiguity.

Our normal routines have been severely shaken and some of us are drowning in the oceans of uncertainty. When it comes to work-life, many individuals are trekking through new territory, encountering struggles working from home with the unpredictability of the future of their careers in the front of their minds.

Now, more than ever, it is important for leaders to rise up to the immense challenges presented to them in order to be a support for their team, keep production flowing, and take control of the current situation as best as they can. Of course, leaders cannot control everything, but by addressing what they can control, they can aid their team in working more comfortably, more productively, and with purpose.

Understand What Is Certain And What Is Uncertain

Understanding what is certain in the current state of the world and what is uncertain is the first step to taking action with the factors you have control over. The list of what is certain versus what is uncertain may come as a comfort to leaders and their teams, as it’s assuring to know that most things we do know, so we are able to take action to make the current situation as painless as possible. The things that are uncertain to us should not take up space in our minds. Pushing them from focus will help to keep the positivity and productivity of you and your team at a high.

This is what is uncertain:

  • The Future — We don’t know what is going to happen to the future of the company, the economy, the healthcare system, or the world in general.
  • How Others React — We cannot control, nor do we know, how others will react to news, dilemmas, and issues that may arise in the coming weeks, months, and years.

We do not know what changes to expect in the future or how others will react to those changes, so as a leader, you must put those uncertainties aside and focus on the certainties below.

This is what is certain:

  • The Present — We are here, we are breathing, and we are alive and working.
  • We Are All In This Together — Nobody is alone. This is a difficult time for all.
  • We Have Encountered Tough Times Before — We are not novices to struggle. We will make it through this together.
  • We Still Have Work To Do — We still have a goal. We still have a purpose. So, let’s get to work.

Learn To Live With Uncertainty

Not giving in to the anxiety and fear of uncertainty is much easier said than done. But, as a leader, you must lead as an example for the sake of your team’s well-being. In tough times, you must learn to accept ambiguity and live with uncertainty.

Life, as a whole, is ambiguous. Leaders, especially, must be comfortable with accepting the idea of ‘maybe.’ The factor of uncertainty should not suspend team productivity. Taking action is still a priority. Work does not pause because of a pandemic. In fact, it can expedite and alter work, depending on the company and career field.

Leaders must use their good judgment, skills, and strength to make clear and focused decisions. The confidence demonstrated by taking the reigns in times of hardship will comfort and inspire your team and encourage them to continue to be proactive in their personal and professional development.

Find Stability

In order for a leader to stay sane while leading their team remotely, they must develop a stable routine for themselves and for their team. Not heading into the office per usual commute sounds like a treat and an excuse to lavishly work from the comfort of your own home. However, it can easily be detrimental to a person’s overall well-being, and when a leader is not well, their team will surely follow suit and suffer.

To create a stable routine, leaders must wake up and start the day as they normally would. Honoring your morning routine and being available to your team at the appropriate start time is vital to staying on track and will lighten the blow of the external forces spinning around you.

Your routine should align with your team’s needs. Consistent communication throughout the day with a designated end-time will allow you and your team to get the most out of the day without sacrificing self-care and overall wellness. Breaks are important throughout the day, especially in times like these, so encourage your team to take the time they need so they can attend to tasks with a refreshed and refocused mind.

Be Humble, Be Open, Be Committed

Leading with vulnerability and empathy is the key to navigating troublesome times. Leaders must be fully committed to not only the work tasks at hand but also to lifting up their team with positivity to ensure they meet their highest potential and effectiveness. This is also important for supporting the mental health of team individuals, as an understanding and empathetic leader can make all the difference in difficult times.

As we go about our daily lives with the pandemic looming overhead, everyone is struggling. It’s important for leaders to be sensitive enough to understand this and be able to discuss issues openly with their team. These issues could fall under both professional and personal classifications.

A team member of yours may be worried about the future of their career or they may be concerned about the well-being of a sick family member. As a leader, it is your job to listen with a compassionate ear and lend advice or a helping hand if you are able. This is not something you may be accustomed to or have encountered in your position. However, during difficult times, expect your duties to be altered and be prepared to rise up and adapt. This may involve changing your leadership style to fit the situation.

Being highly available will allow your team to feel well taken care of, which is essential to protecting a team’s morale. Although you cannot be with each individual team member physically, it’s important to spend the necessary time checking in on each individual throughout the day. This will let them know that they are not alone.

Staying humble, gentle, and respectful is also critical during this trying time for all. Emotions become heightened during times of fear, and emotions are a leading cause of workplace conflict. Holding back heavy commandership, cavalier pride in one’s self, and staying mellow and tender in disposition will help prevent miscommunications, additional team issues, and sore and sour feelings.

Guide Focus

As a leader, it is always your duty to guide the focus of your team. The importance of being available to your team is not only critical for emotion’s sake but it also critical to keep the team’s vision aligned on the purpose of the company and the assigned tasks at hand.

Guiding focus must be conveyed in two ways; There are short-term goals and the long-term vision. The short-term goals would be classified as day-to-day delegations or even a weekly or monthly project. Touching base with each individual member in the morning to set them on the right path is a proper way to reiterate short-term goals and align the team.

Long-term guidance should also be given to employees on a regular basis regarding the vision of the company. Especially in uncertain times, it’s important for employees to grasp the concept that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and understand that they are working toward something greater. Leaders do not need to beat their team over the head with the company mission, but it’s vital for leaders to express passion for their work in times of trouble. However, this is not always easy.

Be Aware Of What’s Not Working

As leaders struggle with leading in times of fear, it’s not uncommon for them to adopt some destructive patterns and spew negativity toward their employees. This, however, does immense harm to a team’s morale and will not aid in productivity or the effectiveness of your team.

A leader must be able to accurately decipher their own negativity, destructive behaviors, and what’s simply not working. A leader must be self-aware of their good and bad qualities and how they react to stress. During times of crisis, everyone is working hard and fumbling, trying to figure things out. Leaders are human too, so it’s inevitable that they may make mistakes while adapting to a new ‘normal’.

Leaders must use their best guesses pursuing trial and error to discover the right adjustments for their team. In their search for what’s right, it’s vital that leaders learn from their mistakes and practice vulnerability to their team by taking accountability for failed trials.

Your Team is Bigger Than Fear

At the end of the day, when you’re exhausted from the anxiety and uncertainty of the current situation we are surviving in, you must find peace in the fact that your team is bigger than the fear. This is a temporary situation that you and your team will all learn from, grow from, and go onto strive from.

When leadership is executed successfully during trying times, it can make a team build a stronger dynamic through hardship and inspiration. Notice the light at the end of the tunnel, and forget about the state of the world. It won’t be a perfect journey, but you and your team will survive.

Q&A:

  • What is certain?

Things that are certain are the present, we are all in this together, we have encountered tough times before, and we still have work to do.

  • What is uncertain?

Things that are uncertain are the future, and how others react.

  • Why is important to live with uncertainty?

Life is an ambiguous experience. Learning to live with uncertainty will allow you to move forward rather than becoming paralyzed by fear.

  • How to find stability?

Creating a routine is the key to finding stability.

  • Why must you lead with vulnerability and empathy?

During difficult times, the emotional landscape of a workplace can suffer. Team members need a leader who can empathize and show compassion.

  • How do you guide focus?

Consistent communication about both short-term and long-term goals to each and every team member will optimize the workflow and align the team’s vision.

  • Why is it important to be aware of what’s not working?

Being able to decipher what’s working and what’s not will allow you to make the appropriate changes for team success.

  • Why is it important to understand that this is only temporary?

Having the ability to see the light at the end of the tunnel and realize that this situation is only temporary allows you and your team to continue as normally as possible, while helping to eliminate negative thought.

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