Leading in uncertain times

Helen Green
Leadership Collaborator
Quest Leadership
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2017: a time of certainty or uncertainty; a time in which we lurched from one supposition to another or a time in which previous speculations clarified into fact?  As January draws to a close either, or both, could be true. 

And the problem is that even when uncertainties crystallise, the very act of confirmation won’t necessarily make things any clearer. For example, the Supreme Court may have ruled on Article 50 but that doesn’t set the Brexit pathways in stone.  And over in America President Trump may be signing executive orders in order to make good on election promises but the long term effects of a change in presidency will take some time to fall into shape.

All this effectively illustrates is that every journey is a series of steps and, unless we are really good at interpreting Google earth, we may not know for sure what awaits around the next corner.  Should that stop us from taking those first steps?  Absolutely not!  As Nobel Prize winning chemist Ilya Prigogine said “The future is uncertain... but this uncertainty is at the very heart of human creativity.”

So what does it take to lead in uncertain times?  Firstly it requires an appreciation of the way in which uncertainty may affect your people. What might happen to the industry, the company, their job? How will any changes affect them as individuals, their families and the wider ecosystem which depends on them?

It’s hard for people to concentrate when their minds are on other things so the first task for any leader is to defeat the horsemen of doom and gloom; rumour, gossip and speculation. Yes there are always going to be questions which you may not be to answer but the more information you provide the more you can help to clothe the future in certainty. Particularly so if you take steps not only to draw your people into the decision-making process but also to give them a personal stake in future success.

This is where step two comes in. As a leader it is your task to model the way, to create the vision, values and strategy which will drive the organisation forward; but leadership also requires you to inspire and enable others to act in pursuit of that vision. In a time of uncertainty the temptation is to become more autocratic in a bid to control the future but that is exactly the wrong course of action. When you inspire your people then they too will share in the vision and when you empower and enable them to act in pursuit of that vision then the chances of translating strategy into reality are far stronger.

So it’s on to step three and moving training away from being process driven and towards helping people to develop the skills which will enable them to play full part in driving company and personal success. Here areas such as collaboration and teamwork, listening and communicating come to the fore; moving your people away from process followers into full partners in organisational success. Job structures, metrics and expectations may also need to be revised as people start to play a more holistic role within the organisation.

Leadership is as much an affair of the heart as it is of the head. Uncertain times or not, when you inspire and empower and engage people’s hearts then you are truly tapping into the wealth of human creativity which will lead your organisation and your people to success.

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25th Feb 2017 23:59

I believe uncertainty is a beautiful thing. Going into the unknown is the gateway to creative spontaneity, a place where anything is possible and nothing in set in stone. You put across some great points, when it comes to leadership, engaging people and empowering them is surely one of the best ways to increase productivity and employee efficiency.

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11th May 2017 13:13

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