Well, here we go again! Just when you thought the worst calamity of your life had faded into “pandemic past-tense,” you are faced with the worst inflation in forty or more years, more violence and civil unrest since the days of the wild west, an autocratic despot who has invaded his neighbor and threatens nuclear war, and an apparent absence of national and world leadership in facing these and other gritty issues. What is your role in dealing with the fears and uncertainties that face your business, your family, your life?
As leaders, we are each faced with the challenge of maintaining stability in an increasingly unstable world. We are caught on the horns of a dilemma, wanting on one hand to provide a clear, optimistic message to our stakeholders, while realistically assessing rapidly emerging realities which we have never seen before. This presents stresses for both ourselves and our teams that often manifest themselves in mental and emotional health concerns.
More than ever, leaders need effective strategies for taking care of themselves and their teams. Here are seven things that will help you to lead in these uncertain times:
- Acknowledge that there are things that you can control–and things that you cannot. Consternation over uncontrollables can eat you alive, and you must control this, both for yourself and others. A singular focus on your controllables generally will help, and will be far more productive than dwelling on that which you can’t control.
- That said, those concerns that are outside of your control, like inflation, for instance, still should be discussed among your stakeholders (executives, employees, and/or family members). A fear that is not discussed is generally more problematic, and even more dangerous, than one that is openly considered. For instance, while we have little influence on the economic policies that impact inflation, you can likely find creative ways to address inflation’s impact on your business.
Often, getting uncertainties on the table with your people will lead to the discovery of new and exciting opportunities that might not have emerged without the stimulus provided by the crisis. Although no one would have hoped for our current challenges, they may well ultimately make you stronger.
Such discussions also provide you, the leader, with the opportunity to reassure your stakeholders that the “captain is on the bridge” and that you are ready to weather the storm.
- Become an Asker and a Listener Remember: No one knows everything—and that includes you! Most leaders struggle with this, as it requires that you keep your ego in check. But if you learn to ask good questions, you’ll find that your people will often provide you with the best answers to address the challenges you face.
- Stay focused on both the tasks to be accomplished and the people who will accomplish them. Renowned author and organizational behavior expert, Edgar H. Schein wrote in his book, Humble Inquiry, that Americans are largely task-oriented, believing strongly that success is a function of work accomplished. An overemphasis on this, however, can lead to a tyrannical form of uncaring leadership that is ultimately destructive. On the other hand, a leader who overemphasizes relationships may create an environment of positive feelings while the work fails to be done.
An appropriate mix of task and relationship orientation will keep your eye on both critical outcomes as well as caring for the people who are responsible for creating those outcomes. Care at least as much about people as tasks.
- While addressing immediate concerns, don’t lose the long the long view. Don’t let today’s crises distract you from your purpose, mission, and values. Current issues often stir up deep emotions of fear, anger, and discontent. These can lead to any of three undermining counterfeit behaviors: fight, flight, or freezing in place. When these behaviors manifest themselves in the workplace, they must be addressed. This is always a clarion call for leadership to return to why your business exists, where you are going, and what you believe in.
- Choose courageous action over the status quo. While staying true to your purpose, mission, and values is essential, ignoring uncertainties inevitably makes your enterprise more vulnerable to disruption and failure. Your natural inclination is likely to be to stay in your comfort zone, but recognize that your job is to move things forward. That may require challenging many of your fundamental operating assumptions!
- Be still. Take time to meditate and seek inspiration from a higher Seeking the ideas of your stakeholders is, of course, essential. However, on countless occasions, we have observed strong leaders receiving help beyond themselves and their people in their quiet prayerful moments.
Richard Tyson is the founder, principal owner and president of CEObuilder, which provides forums for consulting and coaching to executives in small businesses.