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Five Simple Tips for Leading in Uncertain Times

The ability to lead and communicate during uncertain times is an essential leadership skill.

(Photo by Eric Haggart)

With COVID-19 concerns elevated around the globe, the significance of having to lead in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world is ever more pronounced - and signs of anxiety are evident everywhere. The ability to lead and communicate during uncertain times is an essential leadership skill – and one that is especially relevant now. What can you do to help yourself and your team? Keep these five tips in mind: Manage your consumption of negative news. Uncertainty makes us all crave more information, leading many people to spend a lot of time glued to the news to learn more about the virus and its spread. While it is of course important to stay informed, negative broadcasts increase your stress level and can make you less effective at work. It is possible to stay informed about the situation and still remain positive and focused on your work, but only if you regulate your consumption of the news. Focus on what you can control. You only have 24 hours in a day. You can spend those hours preoccupied with things outside of your control or you can invest that time in the things that are within your control. To maintain effectiveness and preserve your energy, make a two-column list of what you can and cannot control, and then focus on the former. Put your own oxygen mask on first. As a leader, team members will take cues from you in terms of how to act and respond. If you are feeling anxious and worried about a situation, it will likely cause more stress in your team members. And the more stressed we are, the harder it is to focus and get even simple tasks done. So be sure to spend time outside of work enjoying the activities that help you manage your anxiety. In the course of the workday, reduce your stress on the fly by taking a few intentional deep breaths. This simple action will reduce your overall level of physiological activation. Demonstrate empathy. Lack of certainty is well established as a common stressor, and people vary widely in the ability to cope with uncertainty. Especially if you handle uncertainty well, you’ll need to focus on demonstrating empathy for team members who feel more alarmed. Try to put yourself in their shoes and feel their concerns. By seeing the world through their eyes, you’ll be able to more quickly address what’s on their minds and help them stay calm. Communicate regularly. Leaders can help ease employee anxiety by providing frequent updates. In a study of crisis communication after 9/11, employees described how important it was to hear their leader’s voice – whether in person or through calls, email, or social media. Provide as much clarity as you can on company policies and procedures during this uncertain time, including how decisions were made. Deliver ongoing updates instead of waiting until you have all of the answers. The COVID-19 situation is testing us, our systems, and our institutions in new ways. And accordingly, it will also test your ability to lead - as is common in times of crisis and when the sailing isn’t smooth. The very nature of uncertain times means that there isn’t a handy manual to guide you through the situation. However, following the five strategies above will aid you in both helping yourself and your team manage through these uncharted waters.


With daily fires to fight and limited space to think, I understand how the pressures rob your clarity. As a certified executive coach, I help senior leaders and their teams gain fresh perspective, confidence and new capabilities that accelerate their success. Work with Dina

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