Leading Through Uncertainty

Leading Through Uncertainty

By | April 21, 2020

10 tips for leading a global organization through unprecedented uncertainty.

We are facing uncertainty on an unprecedented scale.

When we surveyed business leaders and coaches for our annual Leadership 2020 Report, the overwhelming consensus was that leaders were already struggling to navigate VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) conditions. Now, with the world in the throes of a pandemic and an uncertain future ahead, organizations, their leaders, and their employees feel completely lost.

If you’re struggling to manage the uncertainty, you’re not alone. Our elite executive coaches have spent hundreds of hours since the pandemic began helping leaders at organizations around the world chart a course through these extraordinary times.

We asked more than 100 executive coaches in the AIIR Global Coaching Network what advice, based on interactions with their clients, they would offer leaders right now. Here are their best responses. Click the links below to jump between themes:

  1. Stay present as a leader
  2. Make a plan, and stick to it
  3. Don’t underestimate the importance of self-care

Stay present as a leader

Keep your fingers on the pulse

“Global leaders need to keep their fingers on the pulse of their employees, their customers, and how the enterprise will shift as a result of this global shock and recalibration that will greet us on the other side of the virus’s fury.”

David M. Ehrmann, AIIR | Boston

Talk through best practices for new work arrangements

“Investing the time to talk through personal best practices and personal preferences can be a very valuable investment. The explicit conversations around timing and mode of communication and style are going to help people feel seen and heard. Let them know your preferences. For example: “I check email when I get up in the morning and then I go for a run and have breakfast. So, I might not be responsive right after I’ve checked email.” And ask them what their plans, preferences, and desired ways of being are, too.”

David Andrews, AIIR | Washington D.C.

Know your people

“In an era of increasingly diverse, multicultural and multigenerational teams, the imperative of “knowing your people” as individuals has never been greater or more in demand. This situation impacts everyone — some much more than others. Leaders need to know and understand the weight of impact for everyone on their team. Who needs help? What help do they need? How can they be helped?”

J. Todd Ross, AIIR | Pennsylvania 

Be an anchor for your employees

“In uncertain times, we turn to our leaders to be the anchor in turbulent waters.”

Maureen Rabotin, AIIR | Paris

Be present

“Leaders need to be more visible and keep themselves informed. Allocate a central point of contact for teams in each geography who can inform you on local staff morale, health related situations, etc.

Be present through regular video staff meetings and similar modes of communication. Update the entire organization daily even if there is not much news. Create a sense of a hands-on approach and a down-to-earth but hopeful line of communication so employees stay engaged and feel supported from the top down.”

Natalie Schürmann, AIIR | Brussels

Make a plan and stick to it

Know what will change, and what will not

“The first stop is cash flow. All the leadership theories in the world won’t help unless you have ready access to cash. It’s like oxygen — without it, the business dies.

Next, take a position through the transition. Make bold decisions about the transitional phase and implement them. Constant alterations to a plan based on evolving circumstances erode trust and lead to death by a thousand cuts.

Third, understanding what is going to change, what will stay the same, and what has yet to be determined is important. Communicating this confidently to the team — especially what has yet to be determined — is paramount. It’s okay to say “we don’t have enough information to make a decision yet.” That is far better than saying nothing and letting people fill in the gaps themselves.

Finally, bring people into the process. Be transparent about decision-making and communicate frequently and transparently.”

Jamie Ramsden, AIIR | Princeton, NJ

Set a strategic vision

“Anticipate the new world with a strategic vision while operating with agility and courage in a complex context.”

Maureen Rabotin, AIIR | Paris

Update your strategy

“Update the organizational strategy, ensure you are well-versed in how to lead change, and provide frequent updates to the organization with clear and consistent messages.”

Brittany Joslyn, PhD, AIIR | New Orleans

Think globally and act locally

“Leaders of global organizations need to be more clear than ever about the unique challenges their teams are experiencing in the market. Now is a time to ask, and expect, your regional leads to step up to a higher level of advocacy for the needs of their region and for region-specific approaches. At the same time, look to identify universal challenges that you can help solve with a global perspective.”

Jay Fehnel, AIIR | Chicago

And finally, don’t underestimate the importance of self-care

Take time to decompress

“As the stress goes up, the need for self-care and recovery goes up. If you are not taking any breaks during the day to step outside, decompress, or relax, burnout is inevitable. Take care of yourself first.”

Bob Kinnison, AIIR | Texas

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