We’re in Uncertain Times. Here’s How to Lead Through Them.
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From my office in Utah, the brilliant white of the snow is a reminder that much of 2023 will remain out of sight and only the passage of time will reveal the changes this new year will bring. As every year, 2023 will bring us a whole new set of unforeseen challenges. Some of them are already here, like an economic slowdown, inflation not seen in almost half a century, and sky-high employee burnout rates.
Like many leaders, I often start my day feeling like I have an obstacle course ahead of me. But as someone who has been in leadership and organizational development for more than 20 years, I’ve found that it doesn’t have to feel like this. In fact, the new year and the challenges ahead can be positioned as opportunities rather than obstacles.
Although it may seem contradictory, you and your team can adapt to it more Wins as losses in this changing environment, especially in the form of innovations – it just needs the right framework. Here are four timeless principles that will help every leader better manage uncertainty for themselves and their teams.
See also: How the Best Leaders Show Leadership in Times of Uncertainty
1. Develop your mindset
One of the most important habits to keep moving forward in the midst of change is to practice your mindset. Realize that you can choose how you view your day and your work. If you consistently remind yourself that you have more power than you think to intentionally choose a calm mindset, this shift will help you deal with uncertainty in the workplace. Most importantly, it helps you focus on the priorities that are most valuable to your business.
If your inbox and schedule are anything like mine, chances are you have unread emails vying for your attention and back-to-back meetings that, while important, feel like they’re getting in the way of “real” work that needs to be done.
That’s just the way it is. We can choose to panic at the sheer volume of emails and meetings we have, or we can say to ourselves, “Well, that’s just it Is…” Working your way up and spending the workday with high cortisol levels doesn’t help.
I often compare it to a hamster wheel. It’s so easy for leaders to jump on that wheel and try to run faster and faster to get everything done. But in the end we only exhaust ourselves prematurely. In fact, 59% of Americans recently reported moderate to severe burnout. We spin our wheels too fast and push ourselves past the stress point. Instead, choose to remain calm in the face of uncertainty and focus your efforts on what you are doing may Control. Realize that you just can’t do everything at once. This calm perspective and focus allows us to do our jobs more effectively, more productively, and with a happier attitude. A triple win.
See also: The 4 things leaders need to do first when faced with uncertainty
2. Focus on the space between stimulus and response
One thing that changes produce in all of us is a stimulus response — a gut reaction to disruptions in our day-to-day routines. But there is power in the space between the stimulus and the response. Here we have an opportunity to pause and consider our response. We can decide what we want to put in the room.
It could be listening to a colleague. You might realize you don’t know the answer to a problem and need to do some research. It could be going back to your business goals and reprioritizing your goals. In this space, you decide what comes next, instead of just reacting to what’s thrown at you. Realize that it is healthy and important to give this space time before responding. Show with your own actions that this room is also valuable for your team.
3. Create a safe environment with high trust
While the first two principles focus on managing change as an individual, the last two principles can help you manage change within your team and organization. A key to helping your team navigate change well is to intentionally create an environment that is safe and fosters trust. If your team is walking on pins and needles, worrying about being laid off every day, or wondering which of their most important initiatives are being cut, they’re probably not focused on being productive or effective.
Creating a safe, high-trust environment is not as difficult as it might seem. Simple things like regularly speaking face-to-face with each of your employees and asking them their individual concerns or pain points can go a long way in building trust. You can reiterate your team’s corporate strategy and business goals to them, while being transparent as those goals evolve and change. You can remind them of their worth and express their gratitude for their contribution to your team. These simple actions build stronger relationships and build trust between you and your team members and colleagues.
See also: 2023 is the year and a fear of uncertainty. How to navigate in it.
4. Focusing uncertainty on a challenge
One of the best ways to actually take the uncertainty and do something productive with it is to direct it toward a specific challenge. Accept the challenge (i.e. the problem that needs to be solved) and then decide as a team to solve it. This gives you something constructive with that anxious and insecure energy and an opportunity to work together and allow something positive to come of it. This process strengthens and engages the employees – and this is where meaningful innovations are born.
While none of us have a crystal ball, with the right attitude, you can overcome uncertainty and help your team do the same. Recognize your employees for the brilliant individuals they are. As you strive to create a safe, trusting environment and collaborate with your team on the changes to come, you’ll be surprised at the innovations your team brings forth.