What we are experiencing right now is unlike anything we’ve ever faced before. A pandemic that requires offices to close and a near fully remote workforce was unthinkable, even earlier this year. However, that is where we find ourselves. Working through natural disasters, pandemics, terrorist attacks, wartime, and other unexpected events is stressful for everyone. But as executives, employees are going to be looking to you for guidance and reassurance. Leading during uncertainty is not a skill set that can be taught in textbooks.
Uncertain times create fear in people. Leadership is important anytime, but at no time is it more important than when your employees are unsure of the future and worried about making ends meet. In times like this, of course you have business issues you’re thinking about for the long term future of the company, but you also have the human element to consider. Soft skills like transparency and empathy should be front and center. Your employees are listening no more than ever and you must be authentic in your communications with them. Now is not the time for spin or deflecting. Below are a few suggestions for leading during uncertainty.
Revisit Your Mission
Mission statements are created to reflect how the company serves its customers and employees. Yet, once it’s written how often do you think about it when making decisions. Usually, not often. Uncertain times are a tough test of culture. They are a great time to revisit your mission and consider it as you make decisions. As a foundation of the company culture, aligning decisions to your mission reassures employees and customers that you are being thoughtful in your decision making process.
Remember the Big Picture
If we could rebuild after two World Wars, terrorist attacks, and multiple recessions, we will rebuild after the pandemic. If there is one thing about humans, it’s that we’re resilient. We always find a way to improve the situation after we’re through it. Watching too much coverage of a crisis, especially with social media, can create even more anxiety. Providing leadership means cutting through all of the what ifs and being honest and positive. Employees need reassurance there is light at the end of the tunnel. Look to the future and what’s possible and how everyone is instrumental in making it happen.
Communicate and Delegate
In times of crisis, the instinct to centralize power and decision making kicks in, but that can backfire both because it reduces the role of other leaders in the organization and puts too much pressure on the CEO to be right. If we look at the pandemic, many state and local governments are taking matters into their own hands while they continue to work with the federal government for help. Instead of feeling powerless, they are “leaning in” to make decisions for their people. This is a great example of delegation, whether intentional or not, in that these people know what they need to do in their area. They are on the front lines so to speak.
The same is true for an organization. Create more frequent check-in points with key members of the leadership team and empower them to make the decisions for their departments. Provide them with direction, offer support, and iterate any boundaries that may have changed due to the un-normal circumstances. Then stay out of the way and let them lead. Leading during uncertainty, “requires a village”, as the saying goes.
Times of uncertainty will test the mettle of every leadership team. Those that understand there is no playbook except to be open and honest as events unfold are the leaders that cement their status as respected and admired by their employees and customers. Honestly, none of us know what we’ll do until we are faced with a new situation. But taking a step back and thinking through your approach will not let the moment get the better of you. If you have questions on creating or maintaining a positive culture through this uncertain time, please send us a note.