Leading through uncertain times

I was with a group of senior executives from multiple organisations earlier this week and I wanted to get a read on the current mood.  The clear consensus:  uncertain.

Whatever your perspective, there’s one thing most of us would agree on:  these are indeed very uncertain times.  This thought piece was written just a few days after the historic vote in the UK Parliament, when the terms of the country’s departure from the European Union were rejected by a huge majority.  However, we shouldn’t see this only as a UK phenomenon:  these are seen as some of the most uncertain and volatile times in living memory by leaders in very many parts of the world.

So, as leaders, what can be done?  Many of us will feel powerless to influence the macro political or economic agendas, but we do have a responsibility for our teams.  This short article highlights some of the things we can be doing to make a real difference for those around us.  Many of them are reminders on good practice generally, but some are more bespoke to these uncertain times.  As you read through, you might want to reflect on how well you’re doing against each one (maybe a score of 1-10?), and then take a further look at it in a few months.

  • We often speak about leaders being in a “goldfish bowl”. Never was this more true.  Every comment/ gesture/ mood change is keenly observed and magnified many times over.  Be aware of what you’re projecting all the time and try and appear calm under pressure.  Being consistent is also a part of this.
  • Stay focused on the future. Remind colleagues that there is still a bold vision/ bright future.  If that really is in doubt, focus less on hard metrics which might prove a challenge, and instead on those things you can control (culture, ways of working, collaboration, team spirit, etc).
  • Be clear about what you can’t be clear about.
  • Create a sense of excitement about the possibilities. Whilst the uncertainty will close some doors, it’ll open others.  Help the team to see those possibilities and innovate.
  • Listen like you’ve never listened before. Really tune into what those around you are saying; show interest, empathy and concern.  But stay focused on the future too.
  • We also often speak about authenticity; being the real you. Be honest, be straight, be yourself.
  • Don’t get drawn into the politics. Rise above them and encourage others to do the same.
  • Take a step back occasionally. There’ll be a temptation to get into the “weeds”:  come up and see the bigger picture, regularly.
  • Create a sense of positivity and fun, but don’t be frivolous. Colleagues will not appreciate gestures which are not well considered and might create a distraction.
  • And last but not least, something for you personally. Do something more to maintain your own health and wellbeing, and seek out the sources for your own emotional support.

If you’re already doing most of these, well done; it’ll serve you well.

Jeremy Franks, Partner, Aretai LLP

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