"The future is uncertain... but this uncertainty is at the very heart of human creativity." – Ilya Prigogine, Nobel prize-winning chemist
When I was driving to the office one morning, I heard on the radio that the bank I worked for had merged with three others. My heart sank.
But, my initial shock was soon replaced by anger – about having received the news via the media and not "first hand." Couldn't they have told us the previous day? And couldn't George have...? And that's where that thought stopped, because I trusted George implicitly.
George was the organization's head of properties and, at the time, I had worked as his personal assistant for two years. I just knew he would have prepared his department in some way if he had been aware of the merger, even if he wasn't able to give us all the information.
I was at the office before George that morning, and the phones were ringing like crazy. People were standing in line outside my office to ask if George, or I, knew something. It was chaotic. In the meantime, Mr Richards, the managing director, had told me that George needed to go to the "big boss's" floor for a meeting as soon as he got to work.
When George arrived, seeming as calm as always, I gave him Mr Richards' message. But, instead of rushing to the elevator, he asked me to get everyone in our department together in the boardroom.
"But, George," I protested, "Mr Richards wants to see you immediately."
"I know," he said, "but my first responsibility is toward the people in this department."
As it turned out, George had also heard the news on the radio. He couldn't tell us much more than we already knew, but he assured us that, whatever the situation, he'd fight to keep the jobs of everyone in his department. He also promised to keep us updated. It was a short meeting, but, when we returned to our desks, we all felt a sense of calm.
We never doubted George, even though we were uncertain about what would follow. His solid reputation, and the fact that he communicated with us there and then in that moment of crisis, made all the difference.
This isn't really part of the story about "Leading in Times of Uncertainty," but it would be unfair not to tell you this: George fought many a tough boardroom battle to keep his word, and not a single job in his department was lost.
During our latest #MTtalk Twitter chat, we discussed leading in uncertain times. Linda Mann (@TalentExch Biz), who suggested the leadership topic, is one of our regular participants and she was also our guest contributor.
Here are the questions we asked and some participant responses.
Q1 What does the phrase "uncertain times" mean to you?
Most people agreed that "uncertain times" usually go hand-in-hand with lots of change.
@KLC2978 Not being in control of things, not knowing or being able to predict what is ahead. Unclear outcomes.
@haeheti4 Uncertain times simply means unpredictable outcomes that could bring along with effects either negative or positive.
Q2 How do you deal with uncertainty?
From the responses, it would seem that an open mind and willingness to learn from the experience will stand you in good stead in leadership.
@leadandtriumph Learn! I learn as much as I can about the "what" and the "why" of the cause of uncertainty.
@WonderPix It kind of comes down to knowing what you can/can't control and always doing your best no matter what's going on.
@70mq I try to understand why things are happening (for example in work). Uncertainty stems from not knowing or understanding.
Q3 In uncertain times, what are some obstacles leaders need to navigate?
@TwisterKW Emotions of team. Needs of various stakeholders. Managing rumors.
@E_Toohig Genuinely not knowing the answers to questions raised by those you are leading. Having them think you are withholding information.
Q4 How do you plan for who hears what and when about a reorganization/merger/closing?
@TalentExch_Biz Try to tell as many people as much news as possible at the same time. Prevents rumor mill, confusion and perception of inequality.
@temekoruns Mergers/acquisitions/closings don't happen overnight. Get ahead of the media and have internal checkpoints.
Q5 How do you keep morale high when there is ambiguity about the future?
Many leaders have to deal with this, so we're sharing a few more insights.
@Hotrodder68 Reinforce the values of the organization: no matter the changes outside we will continue to do x, y, and z. Strong honest leadership.
@SanabriaJav I think you have to be honest with people. If you're not going to keep them around, let them get a head start on their next step as soon as possible.
@psychedge01 Provide as much clarity as possible and be honest.
@maat333 With character; show support and show what supports you; be patient and try to understand concerns.
Q6 How can you calm fears and help people work productively after receiving bad news?
Good communication and solid values will definitely help.
@JKatzaman Maintaining productivity hinges on the dire nature of the news. With good prior communication, the blow might not be as harsh.
@ChayneDaisy Keep communicating and ensure there's a way to support individuals. Don't ignore the tough messages.
@NicolaBlairHRP Be positive, but balance that with being realistic. Lead by example. Acknowledge fears.
Q7 What can managers do to reduce gossip and assumptions?
@SistadaHealer Managers should be transparent, address concerns immediately, give facts and provide a game plan for maintaining business.
@harrisonia To reduce gossip and assumptions, managers can stick with the facts and leave their opinions out and emotions out.
Q8 How can you keep the trust of your team through an uncomfortable transition?
Building trust is something managers should do all the time.
@PG_pmp In such situation trust that was built during happy times works well, as people listen and adopt the change to take the next step.
@BrainBlenderTec By being open with them and offering solutions that could help. When team members know you have their back, it retains trust.
Q9 What values and behaviors are important for leaders to demonstrate during periods of uncertainty?
Honesty, transparency, courage, and consistency are all part of the formula.
@thevijaymahajan A leader should demonstrate truth, know what not to compromise, and what to optimize.
@ZalkaB Lead with empathy and put your employees first. Be there, be present, but stay honest. No false promises and deception.
Q10 When working through a period of uncertainty, what did a leader say and/or do that you appreciated the most? Why?
It's not only what leaders say, but what they do and their body language also play a role as we see here:
@GThakore A smile and an appreciative tone of voice. Acknowledgement in form of a strong handshake.
The last word goes to Linda Mann, our guest contributor: @TalentExch_Biz This: "When the dust settles, those of us left standing represent the best. We will be stronger than before. Don't waste it."
Why do you think older people are still discriminated against in the workplace? Please vote in our Twitter poll here to let us know.
In our next #MTtalk, on Friday May 12, our topic is "Ageism in the Workplace." To share your thoughts and ideas, please join us at 1pm EST/5pm GMT/10:30pm IST.
To participate in our chat about age discrimination, type #MTtalk in the Twitter search function. Then, click on "All Tweets" and you'll be able to follow the live chat feed. To join the conversation, simply include #MTtalk in your tweet and it will show up in the chat feed.
In the meantime, here are some resources that will help you learn more about leading in uncertain times:
For many people, a basic pre-pandemic routine was eat, work, sleep, repeat! They were caught in a rat race, and their employers didn't really care. The goal was to produce, produce, produce!
"The best leaders, the ones who make the most change, know that communications is not a soft skill but a rock-hard competency." -Sally Susman
Mind Tools coach Sarah Harvey asks what are the benefits and dangers of courage at work.