Leading Through Uncertainty
Leading teams through change and uncertainty can be hard. Learn 4 things you should be doing to make yourself a stronger transformational leader.
You’re sitting in a big team meeting or the quarterly town hall and the Powers That Be suddenly bestow upon you this amazing new strategy setting a different direction for the company. Once you get your head wrapped around the enormity of this strategic shift, the next logical thing to consider is what about me and how does this impact my team?
We can lead, follow or get out of the way. Many of us choose to lead. How do you lead a team through a strategic shift in a way that is meaningful and minimally disruptive to your business-as-usual activities? What about its impact to your clients and internal business partners? What if you have a team that’s counting on your leadership and you still haven’t sized up the full implications of the change?
Leading through uncertainty can be challenging, even for the most experienced leaders. We rarely have all the answers when there is a big strategic shift and sometimes you just have to figure things out as you move toward the New Normal. Here are a few things to consider next time you find yourself leading with only half the vision provided for you.
Always put your team first. As you’re trying to figure out how to respond and align to the new change, the most important factor for you to consider is your team members. While your peers may be trying to figure out the organizational impact and its bearing on next year’s bonus structure; you should be focusing on the near, medium and long-term impacts for your people. What can you do to push for clarification and provide more direction? The sooner you figure out the WIFM (What’s in it for me) for your team, the easier it will be to navigate through the gray. No matter how diligent you are, you will rarely have all the answers. It’s best to be highly communicative and transparent. Admit what you don’t know, openly address the up and down-sides of the changes, get them comfortable with a bit of “we’ll have to wait and see” and open up the channels for communication so you can eliminate them working off of speculation and assumptions. Establish guardrails to help keep them on track while giving them a bit of latitude to experiment and make mistakes.
Determine the impact on your external customers or internal stakeholders. We all have customers. If you generate revenue you have external clients. If you are a support function you have internal clients. Major shifts in strategy will always have implications for your customers. It could be something as subtle as a shift in the operating model or something as obvious as a new organizational structure, support model and pricing changes. You and your team need to do everything possible to shield these impacts from your customers and to maintain your current standard of support and service as things are getting sorted out.
Strengthen your own understanding and commitment. As much as we’d all like to have a seat at the table during every major decision, sometimes we are surprised to find ourselves out of the loop. In order for you to lead through change effectively, you have to understand its purpose and ultimately buy in to the new direction. Do whatever you need to understand the Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How so you can be fully committed to the initiative and understand the areas where your team can support the new direction. The worst thing you can do is tell your team “this was all their idea”. This us versus them approach will kill any chance you have at adoption and buy-in. If the change seems like it’s going to make things worse for you and your team, take time to understand why the decision was made, what the ultimate goals are and how you can adjust to ensure your contributions are successful.
Realign your strategy. A good vision and strategy will stand the test of time, however there’s a good chance you’ll need to do some adjusting. Don’t feel compelled to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The more things you can keep consistent, the better chance of success you’ll have. While maintaining alignment with corporate directives, see what tweaks your guiding principles will need to give everyone a strong understanding of what success looks like. Be inclusive as you make these changes to encourage buy-in and to ensure you have a diverse perspective on the changes needed to be successful.
Change is hard and uncertainty makes most people feel uneasy, even fearful. This is a great time to set yourself apart as a strong leader. Be compassionate towards the feelings of your team; encourage learning while allowing for mistakes; be humble and admit you don’t have all the answers; make yourself approachable by opening the door to communication; be resilient by taking the lead as you navigate your way to the New Normal.