A how-to guide to leading effectively in uncertain times

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One look at the news headlines every morning will tell you that a lot we took for granted about our world is crumbling to pieces. Social media has brought many new and old problems with our work culture and routine to the forefront. More and more of the workforce is “opting out” in favour of more flexibility and better quality of life. Start-ups are a dime a dozen, bringing their versions of disruption to the market place. Many of them are learning corporate governance on-the-job. Traditional norms are breaking apart to make way for a new style of working. It is all very exciting, but often also intimidating.

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At the same time, global geo-politics is fragile. Formerly open markets like the US, UK, and Australia are clamping up on the topic of immigrants and outsourcing. What this means for our industry remains to be seen, but till the word is out, ambiguity remains.

Given that India came out of the economic meltdown of 2008 largely unscathed, this might be one of the most uncertain times for our economy and work culture, as well as for global geo-politics.

While onus to steer organizations effectively during such times does lie largely with executive leaderships, younger and often inexperienced managers have a role to play too. They are second-in-command after executive leadership, and often the focus persons to answer questions and respond to the demands of their workforce.

What are some essentials young managers and even new leaders must adopt in the face of uncertainties in order to lead effectively?

Embracing uncertainty is the only way to prepare for change

This is really the first step to not only lead effectively but also to stay sane in times of uncertainty. Being aware of the current and potential changes helps you and your team prepare for them better. The organization is about to announce flexi-time? About time too. But are you prepared to do what it takes after the years of conditioning of having your colleagues around you in-person at all work hours?

Your start-up is about to be acquired? This could mean organization-wide restructuring. Is your team prepared to back each other up and hand over and take on new responsibilities? Do they have the bandwidth? These are some questions you need to ask yourself before you put yourself in a position to answer others’ questions. 

Demand diverse perspectives

An effective leader is not afraid to ask what he or she doesn’t know. When making a decision in times of uncertainty, this trait becomes even more essential. Involve more people in the decision making process and ask them to fearlessly voice their opinions. You will have better insight into the pros and cons of your decision through perspectives that you may not have thought of. 

Prepare for change but make no assumptions. If you make them, don’t broadcast them

This one is tricky. It is human nature after all to try and read the signs and base one’s opinions on them. This is dangerous in times of uncertainty because things may appear worse than they really are. For instance, does the fragile geo-politics or any form of organizational restructure really mean potential downsizing? We often tend to jump to the worst possible conclusion. Assumptions like these can have serious implications on the morale of your team. Don’t broadcast personal opinions, and stick with facts.

Don’t answer what you don’t know

Sure, your team looks up to you to answer their questions and doubts in times of uncertainty. But as a mid-level or even experienced manager, you may not be privy to many realities. In such times, promise your team you will find out. Don’t give them an ambiguous, or worse, inaccurate answers.

Continue to drumbeat the importance of delivery

This one is especially crucial. Nothing stands out in times of ambiguity like excellence. Continue to remind your team that focusing on the task at hand and delivering on point is what they come to work for. It also means striving to form deeper relationships with clients and protecting revenue as much as possible. When the numbers speak for themselves and successes, both small and big, keep coming in, your team will continue to have high morale.

Regulate your own emotions

During times of uncertainty, it is not just your team that is stressed and anxious; you probably are too. But it is not a good time to lash out, throw tantrums, and let anxiety get the better of you. You are a manager not only because of professional experience but also life experience. Show the maturity your role deserves and seek comrades and mentors when it gets difficult.

There is no better test of leadership skills than times of ambiguity. Take one day at a time. It might even teach you a thing or two about self-regulation and change management. Remember, what doesn’t kill you does make you stronger after all!

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