Now is a scary time to be a leader.
Economists have plenty of opinions about what will come next. The signs seem to point towards a pandemic fueled recession that may last longer than originally hoped. At the same time, debates and protests about equity, race and policing continue in the United States and we are headed towards perhaps the most consequential presidential election of our lifetime in November.
During times of radical uncertainty, my personality driven cautiousness comes to the fore. On one hand, I read and hear advice saying to hunker down, cut expenses, and do what is necessary to fight another day. At the same time, there is a drum beat of expectations around having the courage to choose the future. So, how does one not become paralyzed by the uncertainty?
I recently read a terrific article by Carl Richards offering a 5 Step Guide for Navigating a Scary Stock Market. With credit to Mr. Richards, here are 5 Steps for leading in uncertain times:
Step 1: Give Yourself a Break
Feeling irritable, impatient, scared, and self-critical in times of uncertainty is normal. Stop and name what you are feeling. Try writing about your feelings. Putting them on paper gives you the opportunity to “set them down” rather than ruminate about them. I have a notebook on my nightstand that I write in just before I go to bed. Getting my worries and feelings on paper and out of my head helps me to sleep better.
Step 2: Remember your Purpose
Finding meaning is important during hard times. Go back and re-read your organization’s purpose statement. Pay attention to the times each day when you feel that you have made a difference to someone or something you care about. Remembering and focusing on your purpose takes your mind off what you can’t control (the economy) and focuses you on what you can control (doing your job as well as possible).
Step 3: Revisit your Strategy
The good news about being a leader is that you are adaptable and an idea person. The not so good news is that if you are like me, it is easy to forget the strategy you have already decided on and to try and create a new one, alone, sometimes late at night and before the sun comes up. In my experience, this rarely is time well spent and is guaranteed to drive your colleagues crazy. Take the time to go back and review the strategy you created earlier in the year. It is likely better than you remember and almost certainly better than one you come up with “on the fly”!
Step 4: Stick with the Plan
It is tempting to spend time seeking new and brilliant ideas to overcome the uncertainty you feel. But the reality is that if there were magic answers, you and your team would probably already have figured them out. Sometimes, the best thing to do is just execute on the plan you already have and be prepared to adapt when new information becomes available. And make sure you notice and reinforce the successes you and your team are creating.
Step 5: Get a Life
Find a way to redirect your energy away from worrying about the business. Go for a bike ride. Take a walk. Learn to play a musical instrument. Read a new book. Spend time with family. The idea is to maintain perspective. Your work is just one part of your life. It is not your life.
As I told my team this week, I know I can be demanding (and it is necessary sometimes). But I also know (and need to remember) that there is more to life than work and that we have gone through tough times before and will again.
A challenge shared is a challenge cut in half. If you are challenged with uncertainty, I guarantee you TBG can and wants to help! Just send me an email and we’ll talk about the steps you can take.