#MTtalk: Leading in Uncertain Times » Mind Tools Blog
#MTtalk: Ageism in the Workplace

#MTtalk: Leading in Uncertain Times

May 2, 2017

“The future is uncertain… but this uncertainty is at the very heart of human creativity.” – Ilya Prigogine, Nobel prize-winning chemist

Uncertainty is a Fact of Life

We’re living in a world filled with uncertainty. We hear about it, we read about it, and we see it on television. We feel it in our own lives. What is a given today may not exist in a few years. Just think of fax machines, videos and cartridge players in cars to name but a few.

We usually don’t like to be exposed to too much uncertainty over a prolonged period of time. It leads to stress, and we secrete more adrenaline and cortisol to keep our bodies in a state of readiness to fight or flee. As primitive beings it served us well. But, in modern life, too much stress is recognized as being bad for our long-term health.

As much as we dislike uncertainty, we must also recognize its benefits. Two major pluses are that it often stimulates creativity and problem solving.

Let’s take ride-hailing app Uber as an example. The founders’ uncertainty about transport in Paris one evening led them to design the app that many of us use today. With one tap on a smartphone screen, we have certainty about a ride.

The originators of home-letting app Airbnb were uncertain about their ability to pay their rent in San Francisco. So they decided to hire out three airbeds in their lounge to people who couldn’t find overnight accommodation. The rest, as they say, is history.

As humans we all learn how to handle change and uncertainty, and how to manage our emotions and behavior in uncertain times. But what if we have to lead others through an uncertain period?

Leading in Uncertain Times

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.”

Next time, on #MTtalk…

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:








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