Leading in Uncertain Times, What to do to lead your team when you are surrounded by ambiguity

The changing role of leadership in uncertain times

In times of uncertainty, great leadership is more important than ever.
Planning for the unknown is important, but focusing on known factors can help you keep delivering great results when leading in uncertain times. 

It's often said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. But to that list you can add the certainty of uncertainty. Change is inevitable (and necessary) but we do seem to be facing more than our fair share in the past few years – and leading in uncertain times can be challenging, whether due to political turmoil or environmental factors.

Your team will look to you to lead them through the uncertainty, and this can really put your leadership skills to the test, so knowing where to focus your energies can really help when leading in uncertain times.

Great leaders play six critical roles, which are:

  1. Shape an exciting aspirational vision that engages people and challenges people to unite around it;
  2. Translate that vision into a clear strategy and action plan;
  3. Attract, develop and reward the best people to make that strategy happen;
  4. Review performance and results relentlessly;
  5. Model what is expected of others;
  6. Establish a working environment where people are empowered, innovation and learning are valued and information is freely shared.

Read more about the Six Roles of Leadership

These six roles remain important when leading in uncertain times; what changes is your focus within each of the roles. Let’s take a look at how you can adjust the role of leadership in uncertain times. 

1. Shape an exciting aspirational vision

When everything outside the business seems to be unclear or constantly changing, it can seem particularly challenging to shape an exciting vision. 

But if your vision is based on a clear client/customer need, then it may not change that much. If this is the case, your job is to reassure people, continue to share the vision and ensure your teams both understand it and remain excited about it.

If uncertain times mean a change in vision is necessary, you will need to you engage the people you work with in building a new vision which everyone wants to work towards.

2.  Translate that vision into action

When leading in uncertain times, changing constraints on the way you operate mean you may have to adapt the way you bring your vision to life.

However, it’s important to balance planning and delivering as you don’t want to become paralysed by continual planning. The greater the uncertainty, the greater the temptation can be to plan around every possible scenario, resulting in over-investment in plans for things that will never happen.

The role of leadership in uncertain times is to balance the level of risk you face with the amount of time and effort invested in scenario planning… while at all times maintaining a focus on continuing to deliver your products and services.

It’s important to remember that much of your business will remain unchanged, and focusing on that can help your team stay motivated and continue to deliver.

Even when faced with a great deal of unknowns, there is still much that you can be sure of, and it can be useful to make a list of what you do and don’t know, as this can really help bring this into focus.

3. Attract and develop the best people

Uncertainty in the workplace can unsettle people, especially if they don’t know what is being done to address it.

As well as keeping your focus – and being consistent in the first two roles above can help here – it is important to maintain your values and show your appreciation for your team members… not just for what they do, but also for who they are. Trust in your team is vital so avoid challenging that trust, for example by adding in lots of new controls.

Uncertainty doesn’t just present challenges; it can be used to create development opportunities; what projects can you involve people in that will stretch them and give them new experience while you build your plans and navigate the uncertainty?

4. Review and focus on the results

When leading in uncertain times, keeping an eye on a rapidly changing environment, it can be very easy to lose focus on work you are doing now and the results you are currently getting. 

It can be tempting to focus on future unknowns but it is just as important not to neglect your focus on getting great results now, as this is fundamental to your business survival.

The Plan - Do - Review cycle is now more important than ever. In periods of uncertainty, shortening the time for each cycle will make you and your team as agile as possible... ready to adapt to changes in the marketplace as they happen.

Customer service is always important, so listening to their perspectives and insights will allow you to continue to meet their requirements as the environment changes around them. You can see this as an opportunity to strengthen customer relationships and future-proof your business.

5. Model what you want to see from others

You’ve heard the saying “what you do speaks louder than what you say” – and how you personally act during these uncertain times will be reflected by your team’s actions, too. If you are seen to panic, this fear will spread, despite any verbal assurances you may give.

Build trust by ensuring your actions are consistent with the messages you are sharing with your team and ensure your decisions are based on the values you outlined in your vision and strategy.

6. Establish a working environment where people are empowered

Keep the team focused on what they can be doing and what they can influence right now rather than all the unknowns. Sharing the Covey Circles on Influence and Circles of Concern Model can really help.

When focusing on the next steps of the business, ensure people have the tools and information they need to move forward.

Take the ‘no regrets’ decisions and encourage the team to do the same. These are the decisions which need making whatever happens; things like ensuring the data in your databases is clean, and things that help you know your team, customers and suppliers better, such as keeping your contracts up-to-date.

At all times, it is important to keep the team anchored in the values you share, while keeping the working environment fun and somewhere people want to be. This means ensuring you celebrate your successes.

Support for you

In the same way that you are supporting your team, make sure you have the support you need, too. 

One way you can find support is by networking with others who face the same uncertainties.

It is also important to make sure you are looking after yourself physically. You know the drill: eating properly, drinking enough water and getting enough sleep, exercising and, of course, taking time to relax and have fun.

Investing in your leadership development can help, too. A Leadership Coach can help you focus your development on what you need right now, ensure you develop your skills in your particular situation, and apply what you are learning as you lead in uncertain times.

​With help, and by maintaining your focus on known factors, while balancing this with planning for an unknown future, you will have the confidence to steer your way through the uncertainty, developing your leadership skills along the way

If you would like to talk to Bekka about developing your leadership skills or a particular leadership situation you are facing, book a consult call