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Leading at Times of Uncertainty


Leadership is difficult, it does not contain a row of checkboxes that signifies a job complete. Great leadership is not management. It is a role of perspective, inspiration, vision, and curiosity. It is asking others what motivates them and opening the doors so they can walk through and succeed.

The last few years have proven challenging for many leaders since it has lacked predictability and a clear vision. I have seen many leaders move (slip) back into the management role. They have become task-driven, directive, and project-based. While this has been important work, balancing leadership and management has left many feeling overworked and frenzied. No longer is there a clear line or image of leadership. This in itself degrades the culture and leads to a lack of clarity.

So how do you lead well in the midst of disruption? Andy Stanley has a two-part podcast (only 20 minutes each) that beautifully illustrates the fundamentals.

  1. “Your voice is more important than your words.”

At times of chaos, your team craves connection. Hearing your voice and seeing your face sends a message of unity and purpose. It may be tempting to withdraw into your office and avoid the crowd since many answers are unknown but this is the opposite of what is needed. People are feeling concerned and disjointed and are looking to you to bring safety to the situation. You can not over communicate in these situations.

Leading at these times is what you have worked for, this is leadership at its best. Discomfort is part of the game and normal. Having some trusted colleagues and partners to bounce ideas off of and hold you accountable may be worth investing in.

  1. “Your presence is more important than your presentation.”

It is easy to forget the position you hold, the expectation others have of you, and how you are perceived. Most leaders have an element of perfectionism in them. They work hard to present a polished presentation or a well-crafted speech, but that takes time, and time may not be something you have in the midst of chaos.

Stanley argues that something is better than nothing. Remember, you don’t need to know all of the answers. What is more important is showing up, communicating with humility, your commitment to progress, exploration, and communication. Lead by example, now is your time.

  1. “Clarity is the next best thing to certainty.”

At times of disruption there is no certainty but you can provide clarity of information. It is the withholding of information that creates panic, uncertainty, and distrust, not the information itself.

When we under-communicate others have the natural tendency to assume and fill in the blanks with misinformation. The way to avoid this is to provide clarity on what you know and honestly discuss what you don’t. This humility and humanity is what will be perceived as great leadership.

Stanley gives his three principles of clarity: “be honest, don’t pretend, and don’t exaggerate.” This is so simple but many times so difficult since we assume people want us to provide answers and solutions but, what they really need is information so they can make decisions and plan for the future.

Don’t give up hope but at the same time address the current state in an honest and thoughtful way.

To conclude, Jim Collins in Good to Great asked Vice Admiral Jim Stockdale to reflect on his survival after 7 years as a prisoner of war, Stockdale said, “you must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts about your current reality whatever they might be.” Maybe this is a definition of grit?

My Challenge to You:

  • Enlist an “accountability buddy”, this person will act as a sounding board and hold you accountable for showing up as you promise and honestly confront your challenges even when your urge is to run!

  • Is there something that you have not communicated to your team until you have more information? What if you discussed it now? Yes, it is incomplete but what opportunity are you missing by withholding information?

  • Practice being human and not having all of the answers. Believe in your team and show vulnerability yet hold the hope for the future.

  • Listen to Andy Stanley’s two episodes here: Leading in Times of Disruption Part 1 & Leading in Times of Disruption Part 2



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