Uncertain times can severely test (and reveal) the quality of an organization’s leadership. It is during these times that great leaders act - and act decisively. Through their actions, they set an example for everyone in the organization and stand as the difference between thriving in a crisis or suffering irreparable damage. Indeed, turbulent environments often increase the distance between winners and losers in competitive markets. Those that outpace the competition are often defined by the effectiveness of their leadership team.
So how do effective leaders deal with uncertainty? Here are 10 enduring lessons for organizations to consider.
1. COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE (AND THEN COMMUNICATE MORE)
Uncertainty produces anxiety throughout the workforce and among customers, suppliers and investors. Silence will be interpreted as (very) bad news. It is essential to communicate (and reinforce) a clear perspective on what is happening and what it means for the organization.
- Are your leaders communicating often even when they don’t have all the answers?
- Do your leaders demonstrate the poise and composure to reassure all stakeholders that the organization is in safe hands?
2. HELP OTHERS LEAD
- Is the next generation of leaders stepping up? Who is choosing to lead in these uncertain times?
- Is the current leadership asking for help across the organization?
- Is the culture of the organization one that allows people to lead without authority?
3. PLAN FOR THE LONG
AND SHORT TERM
- Are your leaders balancing short-term, tactical decision making with the long-term goals of the organization?
- Are your leaders using data, rather than gut feel alone, to make decisions?
- Are your leaders considering short-term and long-term opportunities that turbulent times create, as well as managing the risks?
4. FOCUS ON CORE VALUES
- Do your leaders know which aspects of your culture will inspire people to overcome difficult situations?
- Can you identify the ‘culture champions’ in your organization?
- How are your leaders communicating the importance of your organization’s culture and values?
5. ENGAGE EARLY, WITH PURPOSE AND HUMILITY
Even when under pressure, great leaders engage purposefully with those around them to marshal the energy of the broader workforce. They create a sense of togetherness by having the humility to listen to a wide range of opinions - not just those from their leadership team - and focus on asking questions rather than attempting to serve as the universal source of answers.
- Are your leaders emotionally aware enough to listen, as well as tell?
- Does the organization see the leader as authentic?
- Who is responsible for looking after your leaders, and what support mechanisms are in place?
6. LOOK OUTWARD
A natural reaction to a sudden shock is to withdraw inward. The best leaders actively resist this instinct. They look outward to employees, suppliers, customers, boards and investors, gathering the insight required to enable better decision making. This should be a two-way channel at all levels, with insights flowing to and from all key stakeholders.
- Do your current leaders have a network of peers inside and outside the organization who can share insight?
- Are your leaders open to new information to help better decision making rather than as a way of gathering power?
- Does your organization have a culture of openness that encourages ideas and insight from all levels?
7. CREATE ORDER FROM CHAOS
- Do your leaders have the ability to cope with complexity?
- Do your leaders have the flexibility to make quick decisions and communicate them clearly?
- Can your leaders manage multiple stakeholders inside and outside the organization proactively?
8. KNOW WHEN TO PIVOT
- Are your leaders disposed to action over analysis and information gathering?
- How do your leaders approach risk?
- Is your organization’s culture open and inclusive enough to move and evolve rapidly?
9. EXUDE REALISTIC OPTIMISM
- Do your leaders have the confidence to answer questions honestly even when they don’t have all the answers?
- Are your leaders outwardly optimistic about the organization’s ability to navigate difficult times?
10. DEMONSTRATE GRIT
Grit is the mental toughness, perseverance and unwavering focus with which great leaders approach challenges. This means seeing tasks through to completion, maintaining the highest performance standards and exuding calm and optimism. In serving as a role model of these qualities, the best leaders lift the collective resilience and tenacity of the entire organization.
- Do your leaders maintain focus and energy even when momentum is lacking in the organization?
- Do your leaders maintain high standards regardless of the pressures the individual and organization are under?
- Do your leaders inspire confidence in themselves and the organization?