Leading through uncertainty

As a business leader, it can feel like we’re making things up, taking a punt or having to guess in a lot of situations. This can pile on the pressure, but can also feel rewarding when we get things right. As we grow and develop, we can see patterns, similarities and processes which we can easily replicate to scale our businesses. 

Right now, however, we are all in a dynamic and unprecedented situation which means that we don’t have direct previous experience from which we can easily determine the right answer. 

The situation requires us to tap in to our authentic and exemplary leadership capabilities. We have to use knowledge and past experiences to help inform what we each do, while recognising there are no direct comparables. What’s clear is that the situation is changing with such pace and we have to take action at a similar speed.

So, the leadership we provide to our people is not surprisingly under heavy scrutiny. Our people are looking to us for support, guidance, direction. They are listening, questioning and processing everything against their personal views and the situation that is playing out every day. That scrutiny will continue all the way through the current crisis and for a long time afterwards.

Here are three leadership tips that will help you demonstrate your authentic and exemplary capabilities!


Modelling the way

To really motivate our people to work hard with us during this time, we need to set a personal example. Besides from the usual culture and courtesy you practice as a business, this encompasses the way you talk to each other, the empathy you practice and the support that you go out of your way to offer during this time. 

You will naturally be more adaptive to change, so check in regularly with your teams. If they ask a question or pose a potential solution to a problem, make sure you listen and follow up with them. Always follow through on your commitments and if you can’t, simply explain why.

If you’re not sure how you’re doing, ask for feedback and hold regular 1-2-1s. You can absolutely let your team know that you’re feeling the pressure and that you want to improve too.

Looking forward

Many leaders are ‘in the long grass’ at the moment, but we need to be mindful of inspiring people with a shared set of goals and ultimately a vision of the future, the other side of this pandemic. 

In the short term these goals may just be for the next week, for the next month, the next quarter. Then as we move through this challenge, looking to the other side of the global crisis, we will need to provide a new vision for the future, to inspire and engage our people.

What’s critical here and now for leading through this level of uncertainty is agreeing what are the immediate primary goals, which likely tie into your existing vision and mission. Choose three to keep it simple and memorable.

Practice courage and curiosity 

There are usually clear processes and rules we can apply to help our businesses run smoothly and scale, however the unknown far outweighs the usual rules during this pandemic. Take a few days to really get your head down and reassess the fundamentals of your business. Think about what this pandemic has made you realise. Can you strip anything away? Does an area need further development? Are your people in the right roles and carrying out the right tasks? 

It’s rare to find an opportunity where you can critically analyse literally everything on the table. The world may never be the same again so this period is a key time to revisit what your business will be in the future and how it will operate. One such example is remote working – many businesses have been forced to do it and whilst unconceivable, for some there is no other option. When we start to emerge from the other side, leaders will question why they need the amount of office space they have.

It’s time to embrace the known unknowns, by investing in your future leadership capability. Find out more about our leadership development. 

Derek Bishop
Derek is a Director and Co-Founder of Culture Consultancy, specialising in cultural change strategies and has previously worked with businesses ranging from VC-backed SMEs to large corporates. He is a regular speaker and guest writer.
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