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Leadership advice for uncertainty and challenging times
There is no doubt that most of us find ourselves in unchartered territory right now with the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on our families, communities, businesses, and world. The unknown can be unnerving and fear-inducing if we let it. It can also be an opportunity for heightened creative thinking, more authentic connection and courageous leadership.
“In uncertain and turbulent times, accepting that challenge is the only antidote to chaos, stagnation, and disintegration. Times change, problems change, technologies change, and people change. Leadership endures.”
– Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner (The Leadership Challenge Fifth Edition, page 1)
My family and I were sharing a rare dinner out together in early March, and our server was especially cheerful and pleasant. About halfway through the meal, her demeanor completely changed – she became terse and less attentive. It was as if someone had flipped a switch. It didn’t take us long to realize that she had just checked her phone and seen that all restaurants and bars were being shut down the next day due to COVID-19. She was outwardly exhibiting her internal feelings of concern and fear.
As we left the restaurant, I found myself wondering how her manager was going to address this unfortunate turn of events with the staff – how the manager was going to lead them through this turbulent time.
It brought to mind several leadership principles we all might benefit from as we look to lead our people through these uncertain times.
Leadership advice for leading people through uncertain times
Be honest and transparent about the reality you find yourselves in.
One of the fundamental truths of The Leadership Challenge® is that credibility is the foundation of leadership: People expect their leaders to be honest, competent, forward-looking, and inspiring. Especially now, the people you lead will be looking for authenticity from you. It’s not the time to sugar coat reality, but to talk about the challenges you face in a way that is truthful. If you don’t, you will jeopardize your credibility as a leader.
Resolve to be positive and hopeful as you communicate with your team members.
Change and challenge are opportunities for greatness. When Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner collected the Personal Best Leadership Stories (the stories that helped them develop The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®), they found that it was actually during challenging times, instead of when things were smooth, that leaders stepped up and embodied exemplary leadership. They led with courage and positivity even in the midst of challenging circumstances.
As a parent, there have been moments when my child has fallen down and looked at me to gauge my reaction so that they could determine just how alarmed they should be. Your employees are essentially doing the same thing – they are looking to you to guide their own response to what is happening. If you are negative, panicked, and chaotic, they will assume that same outlook. If you are hopeful and create a positive and collaborative environment where everyone is working together to weather the storm, you will find people more likely to assume your same positive mindset and behavior.
Stay deeply rooted in your values and let them guide you.
Who you are and how you show up should not change during times of upheaval. If anything, you should look for ways to more deeply communicate and live out the things that really matter to you. As you examine your values, identify how each value might serve you and your organization as you navigate through this crisis. You might write out your core values and tape them to your computer monitor to remind yourself of what’s really important during these uncertain times.
Everyone is experiencing some degree of insecurity and fear, including you. You might find that some individuals have a heightened fear response. Take the time to listen to their concerns and empathize with them. Their feelings are legitimate, so find ways to honor them while also offering whatever reassurance you can. You don’t have to have answers, just offer a listening ear. People will appreciate you taking the time to hear them out.
In times of high challenge, we can start to feel that our skills and knowledge simply aren’t enough for the task at hand. The reality is, they may not be. However, as we examine history and look at leaders who led through immense struggle and difficulty, we find that what made them successful was their inner courage to rise to the occasion. They showed up as best they knew how in each moment, leveraging the people around them and a deep commitment to push through. So, dig deep, find your courage, and do the next right thing.
In the coming days and weeks, we will be putting out more content around best practices for leading through challenge and change. Feel free to comment on this blog to let us know what questions you have around this topic and we’ll do our best to answer them. Then you can sign up for our weekly blog email here to get each week's post in your inbox.