In Times of Uncertainty, 3 Simple Habits Separate the Best Leaders

By José Morales, MBA, PCC.

Good leaders in times of uncertainty make time to pause, reflect, and communicate. Sounds simple enough. Yet through my years of consulting and coaching, I’ve seen that, when added to a mounting list of projects, priorities and deadlines, these simple leadership tenets are often neglected. This neglect adds to the chaos of change and accelerates misalignment of effort, low morale — or worse — increased attrition. There are three simple, yet powerful, steps all leaders can take to support their own, and their team’s, performance during uncertain times.

1. Place the Mask on Yourself First

Airlines have told us for years to place the oxygen mask on ourselves first, then help others. The same advice holds for leading in uncertain and chaotic times. Leaders need to pause and check in frequently with themselves if they expect their teams to settle and focus.

Under stress, our shadow behaviors show up. Shadows fall into two categories: pushing away (avoid, isolate, ignore) or grasping (control, perfection, diligence). Furthermore, uncertainly in our environment drives fear and reaction. This often triggers reactive, fear-based decision-making. The best leaders take the time to examine their own fears, think objectively through the situation, and intentionally focus on the now. The pauses help them better assess the reality and trends of what’s happening. Only when you’ve got the mask on and feel more settled is it fully possible to help others. You can’t emotionally and mentally get there if you’re running low on oxygen.

2. Be Your Own News Channel

Most leaders (and their teams) follow the news to gain more certainty about the future (see #1 above). So much of social and mainstream media targets our core emotional centers with headlines and stories that trigger either anger or fear (rarely love). Which is why it is so important that leaders communicate and engage more often than usual with their teams.

During uncertain times, the best leaders initiate more frequent check-ins, provide a supportive tone and vision, ask how they’re doing, set focused goals, and provide a more positive narrative whenever and wherever they can. Don’t assume this will just happen on its own, don’t assume your perspective and support isn’t needed, and don’t assume this connection can be delegated. Especially in challenging times, teams look to their leader for what to believe. If the leader doesn’t provide a consistent story, people will just create their own. That’s often when the problems start.

3. Stop Looking at the Rear View Mirror

Societal and organizational change, much like entropy, is constant and moves in only one direction. Work, school, and life will inevitably be more decentralized, more individualized, more automated, more inclusive and less hierarchical. There is no normal, and there never has been. The best leaders don’t get caught up in a fear-based future (see #1 above) and they also don’t pine for a return to how it used to be. Instead, they work hard to ride the constant waves of change, all the while looking for new opportunities, taking risks with innovation and pursuing new ways of working and delivering value. The best leaders drive success by looking out the windshield, not the rear view mirror.

For more on building your leadership effectiveness and creating a more productive team,schedule a consultation with José.