How to Lead Through Uncertainty

How do I motivate and inspire my team in the midst of uncertainty that could lead to the whole department being eliminated?  I mean, I’m not even sure I’ll have a job myself!

This is a question a client of mine recently asked.  A tough one.  I didn’t have an immediate answer for him.  He didn’t want to blow smoke in their faces or hand them a bunch of rose colored glasses.  Nor should he.  It is a scary time for a lot of people right now.  And there are no easy answers.  But in times of uncertainty, it is more important than ever to rest in the certainty that each one of us has what it takes to rise above anything life may bring us.

This is what the greatest leaders have done throughout history.  It’s easy to lead when things are stable and successful.  It’s when all chaos breaks loose and the chances of survival are slim that the world’s heroes have risen up to help people remember who they are and to rise up to their most daunting challenges.

Here are three things to remember when you find yourself in a situation similar to the one my client was in:

(1) There is nothing that will come your way that you cannot handle.  If you want proof, consider the fact that you are still here.  Think back to the last struggle or setback you faced.  What did you do?  How did you get through it?  What did you learn?  In retrospect, what would you tell yourself in order to help you get through that?  And what will you tell yourself now?

Sometimes it helps to think of the worst case scenario.  What would you do?  Really.  What would you do?  If you sit with that question and allow yourself to remain calm, you will find an answer.  Because when you get quiet, you summon up that which is timeless within you – that which will not change with the uncertainty, but rather grow stronger in the face of it – your inner strength, resilience, creativity and ingenuity.  Benjamin Franklin said it well many years ago:  “To be thrown upon one’s own resources, is to be cast into the very lap of fortune; for our faculties then undergo a development and display an energy of which they were previously unsusceptible.”

Getting connected to your core strength is essential and must be done before you can provide any real inspiration and motivation to others.  Your confidence will emanate at a level that people will feel – before you even say a word.

(2)  Once you have reconnected with your own inner reserves, help others reconnect with theirs as well.  Extraordinary leaders have the ability to connect with people at a deeper level.  They see not only what each person they lead has done in the past, but also what they are capable of doing in the future.  In times of chaos and uncertainty, people need to be reminded of their strengths because trying times tend to lead us to doubt ourselves and forget how very capable and strong we really are.

Speaking to people in terms of what they are capable of as a group can be helpful, but speaking to each person individually will have a far more powerful impact.  Think about each person you lead.  What has he or she done in the past that has impressed you?  What natural talents have you noticed – what does each person do that seems to come easily?  What does each tend to do that has a positive impact on themselves and everyone around them?  Maybe it is a sense of humor.  Perhaps it is an ability to foresee obstacles no one anticipated and create a plan for overcoming them.  Maybe it is an ability to think outside the box, a dogged determination to make things work, or a natural tendency to partner with others.  What is it that gives you faith that no matter what happens, this person will rise above it?  Speak to it with sincere appreciation and encouragement.  Help that person to embody those qualities once again.

(3)  Keep people’s focus (including your own) on possibilities rather than frustrations.  As with everything in life, whatever we focus on has a way of becoming amplified.  When we allow ourselves to become consumed with fear and doubt, our brains have a way of finding things that feed those states and we find that there seems to be even more to be afraid of or frustrated by.  This phenomenon often happens without our conscious awareness, and it is a vicious cycle that can keep us falling deeper and deeper into despair.

Reversing this cycle requires a conscious effort.  When we notice we are feeling upset by a certain thought, the first step is to become aware of the thought that has caused the reaction and deliberately choose another one to focus on.  There is always something positive or hopeful to focus on.  Sometimes finding it takes a bit of work, but that effort will be met with rich rewards.  A man named Ambrose Redmoon once said “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important.”  We need to figure out what is more important – more worthy of our attention and energy and focus on that.  As we do, our innate talents and strengths have a way of rising to the occasion.

With any change that brings uncertainty, there is a process of renewal involved.  The old must fall way in order for the new to be revealed.  This is true in nature as well as in our communities, organizations and in our very selves.  We can focus on what we are losing and experience a great deal of sadness and grief, or we can focus on what is newly emerging around us – and within us.  Sometimes the most difficult changes are the very things we need to experience to get closer to what we really want in life.  We may not realize the gifts change and uncertainty bring for weeks, months, and even years.  But we can recognize how it has served us in the past and trust in the process, in each other, and in ourselves.

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