Five tips to help leaders manage uncertainty

Uncertainty is a natural and unavoidable part of life. None of us have a job for life, a guarantee of good health, or absolute certainty over what tomorrow will bring. As the pandemic has shown, life can change quickly and unpredictably.

The challenge is that human beings seek certainty. When we’re faced with uncertainty our brain believes our safety is threatened. This triggers a fight, flight or freeze response. When we’re in a fight, flight or freeze state our ability to make decisions, collaborate and solve problems is impaired. We want to feel safe and have a sense of control over our lives and our wellbeing. In an uncertain world, our need for certainty fuels worry and anxiety and makes the management of uncertainty for ourselves, and our organisations an important skill for all leaders.

Five tips to help you manage uncertainty

Accept uncertainty

Accept that you, your team, and your board crave certainty to feel safe. Do what you can help to create certainty. On a day-to-day basis have a structure and routine and encourage your team to do the same. For example, starting and finishing work at the same time, or having set tasks that you do at set times. Having team meetings, 1-2-1’s with colleagues and senior leadership at regular times, can create a sense of predictability that can help to counteract the stress of uncertainty. I wrote about this in my blog on tips for working from home. 

Look after your team and colleagues

We’re all feeling the strain of almost a year of a pandemic. Now is the time to nurture your team. Are they OK? Involve them in figuring out what they need. Teams that are doing well find ways to make time for informal chats, for example deliberately spending a few minutes checking in at the start of meetings, or start the Zoom call early so people chat while they’re making a cuppa like you might before a meeting in an office, or having a Slack channel just for social chat.

Assume virtual events

In an uncertain world we want to feel certain. In order to plan with certainty, assume everything will be virtual until there is a clear green light to do otherwise. Alongside your virtual event, prepare by developing plan B of what a socially distanced version of your event might look like and what would be required to run it.

If in doubt over communicate

The pandemic has affected everyone. When there’s uncertainty our brains fill in the gaps and assume the worst. So over communicate with your teams, supporters and customers, keep them informed of your challenges and give them an opportunity to be part of the solution. For example, many charities are communicating with their supporters differently and developing deeper relationships as they change their service offerings and fundraising to online. A great example of this is CHAS and the launch of the first virtual hospice at home.

Learn and develop

Spend time to evaluate your learning from the last year. What have you and the team learned? Be sure to capture both your successes and your failures. The world has changed and how we engage and communicate with all our audiences will too. We’ll certainly have face-to-face events again, and in addition, customers are more comfortable with technology. I predict a hybrid of face-to-face events with virtual elements. Invest time now developing those hybrid concepts and as we emerge from the pandemic be ahead of the curve.

If you’d like some support to lead your team, get in touch. I run a range of workshops to help teams manage uncertainty, learn from success and failure and stay connected and motivated.

A version of the blog was first published at The Access Group. 

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