Leading Through Uncertainty and Fear

Equipping You to Lead in Uncertain Times

We are living in unprecedented times where constant fear and uncertainty are ruling our days. This is further complicated as we are almost living in isolation while hearing from 24/7 news about the rising numbers of infections and deaths. As the global economy almost grinds to a halt in many sectors, many companies are reacting to the constant changes and challenges with the sole focus of survival.  Leadership is being forced to make critical decisions in very short order that will decide whether their business will be able to make it through the next month, quarter or year.  Decisions such as production shutdowns, budget freezes, wage reductions and employee restructuring are daily news reports. While these are critical decisions for right now, it is vital that leaders do not forget about the proactive actions that they need to make so that they are best equipped to handle this period in time as well as being prepared when the economy does come back.

Communicate Short Term Wins and Long Term Strategy

With most employees working remotely and the increased speed of decisions and actions, it is vital that you take the time to connect with your team.  Step back from reacting to the events around you and make sure that you are maintaining and building trust with your team by communicating regularly and with transparency so that they understand what is happening and why.  Be clear about the company’s goals and challenges – they may have ideas or suggestions that you may not have thought about.Find ways to make your team feel valued by recognizing, and if appropriate, rewarding ideas, accomplishments and behaviors that help the company during this period.  A personal note or phone call goes a long way in helping employees feel appreciated and engaged.

Identify and Invest in Key Talent

Talent is arguably the single greatest enabler of business strategy and if you have not already done so, now is the time to identify your critical employees.  Just as you would not let someone walk off with your financial assets or intellectual property, there needs to be a strategy in place to protect your critical talent from raids or from walking out the door.Use this time to invest and retain your key talent.  Schedule regular video calls with them to provide them feedback, offer developmental recommendations and discuss their motivations and engagement.  These are the employees that are not only important for getting through this crisis, but who will be instrumental to your performance when the market does turnaround.  If you do not spend the time engaging and enabling them today, they will be the first ones to leave once the war for talents heats back up.  

Coach and Develop All Employees

Coach your team and recommend ways to achieve ongoing development while they are remote.  Effective leaders are relentless in their efforts to help prepare their people to achieve results by empowering them to be both responsible and accountable. They inform their people and they stay informed themselves. They are quick to help, quick to coach, to recognize, to say “thanks”, to cheer-lead, and to generally promote a positive, winning culture.  Invest your time planning on how you can help the business and your people be successful versus trying to react to everything, most of which is outside of your control.  When things do go wrong, seek first to understand how you may have contributed to the problem. Then consider how your people may not be living up to their commitments by asking:

  • “Are my people holding themselves accountable?”
  • “Are they actively measuring their performance?”
  • “Are they focused on our objectives?”
  • “Have they built and maintained strong relationships to enable success?  

If the answer is ‘no’ to any of these questions, be a responsive leader by circling back to help your people understand where they failed by providing the appropriate feedback.

Be Vulnerable and Seek Candor

The best leaders seek feedback from their team and from people who have the courage to tell you what you may not want to hear.  You invested in building a team that provides a diversity of perspectives and experiences to make the business successful, so seek and value their input. Be vulnerable. Listen for themes and then consider how to act on the feedback to be more effective moving forward. While there are a multitude of opinions about when this crisis will end, how the economy will react and what the future hold, one thing that cannot be disputed is that talent is a key differentiator – both in terms of how a company adjusts to the current reality and how it will be prepared to succeed in the future. How you lead your team today – how you communicate, provide feedback, seek input and recognize your employees – will have a significant impact on your success tomorrow.  Choose to invest the time, it always has a positive return!

This post is co-authored by Jon Sarn, Kinsley Sarn Executive Search, and Rebecca Ellis, First Person.