Leadership During Uncertainty: Two Actions You Can Take

I’m guessing that many of you have begun to settle into a rhythm while working and leading remotely as we navigate a work world turned upside down by the pandemic. Even as we are adjusting to the current state, everyone in your organization is facing considerable uncertainly. Whether we acknowledge it or not, our behavior is affected by what happens around us.

For leaders in today’s organizations, your jobs have become considerably tougher. Even strong leaders who historically have achieved high engagement and built operations that run as they should are challenged during times of great uncertainty. Advancement, stability, and visibility—some of the important motivators during more typical operations—are now unavailable. Business as usual becomes far from usual and leaders must adapt to the unprecedented change or they run the risk of falling performance, distraction, and disengagement. There are two things leaders can and should do during these uncertain times.

First, and probably most critical, is to engage in dialogue with the men and women on your team. There is nothing that elevates concern more than silence. Even though you and your team may be laser-focused on the tasks of the day, make it a point just to check in and take a pulse-check. While you very likely won’t have all the answers to their questions, it’s critical to reach out and talk to your team. Ask them how they are feeling, what they are hearing and listen to what concerns they have. Tell them what you know and tell them what you don’t know. Keep in mind that in the absence of direct communication, rumor and speculation will fill the void. Having proactively opened lines of communication will help team members feel more at ease and attend to the work that needs to be done.

To that end, the second thing leaders must do is to encourage employees to focus on what is within their control. Now more than ever, people need to come into contact with positive reinforcement for the work they are doing. Increasing reinforcement for getting started on a task in the face of great distraction, offering support to others, speaking positively, avoiding the rumor mill and living the company values are all things that should be reinforced during challenging times. It is also important to take the time to celebrate small victories.

If you can redirect a little time each day to reaching out, asking questions and listening to your team, and finding ways to increase reinforcement for your direct reports’ valued behaviors, you will have greater influence in a situation that at times feels out of your control. Look for how your people respond to your efforts to engage, and I predict that will encourage you to keep it up!

Posted by David Uhl

As senior vice president with more than 25 years of consulting experience, David is a seasoned executive coach, change leader and valued partner who leads his clients in applying behavioral science technology to accelerate and sustain organizational change and performance improvement. Known for his flexibility and adaptability, David has built longstanding relationships with those he serves across every organizational level. In his personal time, David is a ‘retired youth sports coach’ who enjoys watching his three teenage children compete in football and lacrosse; and rooting for his beloved Browns and Longhorns.