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Leading Effectively In Uncertainty

Tips for being aware, asking the right questions, and making timely decisions

One of the few commonalities of almost every article, study or book about leadership is an agreement that self awareness is critical to be a great leader. Today, more than ever, it is important to understand what is driving you – what is influencing your behaviors, your decisions, the data you gather and the choices you make? What mental models, assumptions and beliefs do you have about the world, the economy, your company, your competitors, your employees, etc?

Following are a few questions to ask yourself to indicate how you are performing as a leader in tough and uncertain times:

  • Are you delaying important decisions?
    • There is nothing worse for employees than uncertainty right now. Make tough decisions even if you don’t have all the data you would like to have. You can almost always change them later, but not making them causes tremendous anxiety and a real lack of focus in your organization, draining energy and productivity.
  • Are you spending too much time in your office, avoiding communicating?
    • Even if you don’t have all the answers and there are things you cannot communicate, talk about what you can. Tell employees as much as you can – the good and the not so good. They are making up much worse in the breakroom, so fill in the blanks with more accurate information.
  • Are you ignoring the input and insight of the market, competitors, customers, employees, others?
    • Those closest to the customer often know the most about what you should and could change quickly to retain customers, market share, etc. Ask them! And if ideas are offered, even those that seem like a stretch, consider them seriously.
  • Have you considered multiple ways of winning?
    • If you are still trying to do the same things you were six or seven months ago, wake up and smell the burnt coffee. Things have changed and you must adapt your strategies and actions to adapt to the new realities.

Following are a few tips for continuing to be a great leader in tough and uncertain times:

  • Spend time evaluating what is and what isn’t possible.
    • Take stock of what you do know about your industry and the economic climate. Be cautious to check your understanding – just because you knew it a year ago, does not mean it is still accurate. Invest in getting better business intelligence right now. It will serve you well.
    • Do scenario planning to expand your brain’s ability to see multiple alternatives and course of action. Ask yourself and others “What if…?” You’ll be amazed at what people can come up with if you give them a target and then ask questions to help them see it and believe it is possible.
    • Examining and considering multiple possibilities will help you be prepared to take action if an opportunity presents itself.
  • Prioritize so that you and others remain focused on the right things.
    • Once you have reset your strategies and tactics, make sure everyone in your organization knows what they are. Most people are working incredibly hard today. The problem is, some are working on the wrong things – projects and initiatives that are now unimportant or less important to success. But no one told them! Constantly communicate priorities and the ‘why’ behind them.
  • Deepen customer relationships.
    • Make sure you have a senior executive assigned to connect with significant customers on a regular basis. Customers are making tough decisions on where to spend limited dollars, so make sure your name is front and center because you have built a good relationship.
  • Work on building as much resilience in your organization as possible.
    • Things are changing at a pace that is almost impossible for us to absorb and assimilate. Resilient organizations are focused, proactive, positive, flexible and organized. Don’t assume your employees can constantly adapt to all that is going on. Make it one of your areas of focus and invest the energy to build the capability to deal with the accelerating pace of change.
  • Examine everything!
    • Just because something served the organization well a year ago, does not mean it is the best approach today. Pause and consider all the things that are ‘set in stone’ and consider changing them to adapt to the current environment.

Someone will win. Will it be you and your organization?

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