Our Thoughts

Leading in uncertain times

Posted by Patrick Manyanza on Mar 18 2015

The one thing certain about times ahead is uncertainty. Uncertainty in business is always inevitable and it is in uncertain times that leadership is required the most. In other words, uncertainty really surfaces the need for Leadership. Generally, when things are predictable, all you need for an organization is good management but you don't really need people who look beyond what is in order to think about what could or even should be. In a sense uncertainty is really what gives leaders their job security as they make organizations continue to perform amidst strenuous rigors of uncertainty. The fact is that, when troubles loom, leaders who have the capability to make organizations withstand sudden blows, avail themselves to steer the organization in a new direction. Problems are really the result of uncertainty within the organization and more so within the circumstances that impact the organization. This means that the fundamentals must be carefully and well managed.

In particular, leaders in uncertain times must be able to exalt:

  • Clarity of Mission
  • Flexibility of Plans
  • Transparency in Communication

Clarity of Mission

In times of uncertainty one of the things a leader needs to have is clarity on why the organization exists and what is it doing? These questions force the organization as a whole to reflect back to the beginning when the organization started because in reality every organization begins with uncertainty. Reflecting back to the beginning is a great place to go because it serves as a reminder that great things can happen in the midst of uncertainty. In other words, in times of uncertainty, people are normally locked on to the future, but reflecting back serves as a reminder that the organization can get through the current turbulence because it has already been through uncertainty in the past. Returning to the original vision serves a reminder of what could happen, when people commit and work hard.

In a nutshell uncertainty triggers people to think about the future while the mission of the organization causes them to think about the past in a reassuring way. Therefore, looking at the past in this manner focuses on giving people the courage, insight and discipline to continue to move on forward in spite of the uncertainty.

Flexibility of Plans

Uncertainty requires great amounts of flexibility. The general response to uncertainty is to continue doing the norm, only harder and with much more intensity. In other words, both organizations and individuals often retreat to the familiar in uncertain times. Unfortunately, what is familiar often times drives the consequences of uncertainty in a bad direction. Therefore, leaders have to be willing to do new things as well as old things in different ways.

Transparency in Communication

In actuality, uncertainty breeds about anxiety and anxiety breeds about suspicion. Unfortunately, the normal inclination as leaders is to communicate less and not more in times of uncertainty. Part of the reason is that, in such times leaders are not often sure of what to communicate because decisions have not been clearly made yet. Therefore, there is a tension that exists because on one hand, the leaders are not yet definite in their decisions and they don't want to say anything until they are definite while on the other hand employees want to hear something from their leaders right away.

Therefore, transparency in communication is very critical even if it means a leader admitting that they do not currently know what's happening. When leaders verbalize what they think what their people are feeling, there is an assurance that emerges and that brings a strong sense of calmness. This is because, people want to know that their leaders are aware of what they are thinking and feeling. People want to know that their leader has empathy and so the simple act of voicing people's worries is reassuring. In uncertain times, transparency can be a painful thing but communication is essential in significantly reducing anxiety and suspicion.

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