Leadership in an Uncertain World

Leaders and managers are responsible for leading teams to success—but what does that look like in these uncertain times?  In some parts of the country, leaders are navigating the realities of returning to the office after long-term telework. In other workplaces, leaders are wrestling with health-related mandates as COVID-19 cases persist.  Teams are getting to know each other again or are rebuilding as people enter and exit the workforce amidst the stressors of today.

Where do we start in defining and pursuing success with our teams in this environment?

  • Start with Self. Good leaders and managers know you can’t lead others until you know yourself.  Take comfort in the fact that we are all navigating uncertainty here—no modern society has ever emerged from a pandemic before!  Take the time to reflect on your own experiences and stressors, and to determine what that means for your leadership capacity and approach.  The way you led before may not be the way you lead today.
  • Acknowledge Reality. One way to lead your team to success is to acknowledge the reality of now.  Talk to your team about the changes that have happened in the past year, the changes happening now and the changes likely to come in the next few weeks.  One leader we know opened a recent meeting by asking, “share one word that describes the last year for you.” The exercise was enlightening because it showed how different people’s experiences really were and allowed people to talk about the enormity of what is happening all around us.
  • Redefine Success. Pretending it’s “business as usual” is not a path to success right now.  Some companies are experiencing supply chain problems, service disruptions, shifts in consumer demands and revolutions in workplace dynamics.  Some businesses have found new success in meeting needs that emerged practically overnight.Take the time for a strategic pause with your team.  Start with the timeframe you generally use for goals and performance metrics—perhaps quarterly or annually.  List specific successes over the past period, name the changes you are seeing and redefine goals based on the trends you have observed. Then, reexamine and recalibrate those goals based on an honest look at the team’s capacity given life events.  Given the uncertainties of the moment, consider defining goalposts against which you are reasonably likely to declare victory, rather than stretch goals that are just going to stress people out.

Finally, consider opportunities to reshape the future. Sometimes, the best time to introduce radical change is during times of radical change!  As people adjust to the new realities of today, now is the time to look at other changes that may have been unthinkable a year ago but might just make sense now.  In a time that feels chaotic, you can set new starting conditions that may last long into the future.