I have learnt over time the importance of resilience, and being able to manage and lead a team during times of uncertainty. As much as it can be painful and works against our natural desire for structure in our daily lives, being able sit in the middle of ambiguity and lead a team effectively despite the unknown can reap great rewards for you and your people.
Before I talk a little on ambiguity, the first thing to understand is the idea of resilience. If you are able to develop a healthy level of resilience, you are in a better position to understand, or at least make some sense of the uncertainty that can sometimes surround you as a leader. Those times, for example, when there is a restructure or that period of uncertainty after a new manager or CEO commences. Even in smaller businesses when you are realizing that it is time to strengthen or adapt your product line to remain viable. Uncertainty knows no bounds and when you step into the role of leading a business or others, you suddenly start to realize just how much uncertainty tends to exist…especially when you are in the thick of it and expected to make decisions that affect others.
So, what is the link between resilience and dealing with uncertainty?
The added value for a leader who can manage with, and through, periods of uncertainty is that they can
- continue to provide direction rather than freeze, and
- give their people the perception of structure and direction even when the reality may be the opposite.
Now these aren’t necessarily easy, particularly if you like to have higher levels of control and structure in your life. The reality is that you may not know what the exact outcome or future looks like. Yet for your people to remain productive and focused your job is to create a focus or direction. This is where resilience comes into play as you may be behaving in a way that is not natural. In other words, you are living the new way of being even though you still haven’t figured out what it all really means. You are creating a structure for your team to operate in, even when you aren’t sure of the bigger picture yourself.
Some of the best leaders I have followed and worked with have been able to do this. Even when I knew they couldn’t be absolutely certain of what was happening around them, they had the courage to back themselves, and their ability to create a mini-structure and direction when the drive and energy of the wider company came to a stand still during a crisis.
An easy example of this are those leaders who, when there is a major restructure or leadership change at the top of the organisation, continue to ensure a productive and focused team. They choose a direction, steer the team in that direction, and provide stability and focus for their team. This can be as simple as heightened focus on team objectives and an increase in team meeting frequency to share what information is known. In a complex or matrix organisation, the ability to conduit manage is a critical skill in making this happen.
I’ve also seen the opposite occur; when the manager chooses to use this time to stop everything and wait. The problem with this is that the energy in the team builds as a result of the natural stressors and tensions in the organisation, especially if there is talk of lay-offs. But rather than providing an outlet for the energy through direction and focus, the manager harvests uncertainty and ambiguity, which is fuelled by gossip and misinformation.
To deal with uncertainty in the best possible way, keep things simple and follow these guidlines:
- Work on your own levels of resilience. You need to be resilient in order to build resilience in your team.
- In the absence of broader organisational direction, gather as much intel as you can to create your own direction towards which you can lead your team. As long as you play within the boundaries of any known company vision, values and strategies you will be safe.
- Increase communication opportunities in the team. Whether this is you providing company updates, or giving people the opportunity to let off steam. But remember that the more information you provide, the better it will be for everyone. I’ve heard it said that information is like oxygen…when it dries up people will grasp at anything to stay alive.