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  • Writer's pictureWanda Wallace

Leading in Turbulent Times

By Dr. Wanda Wallace

Eric McNulty

To quote Lucius Anneaus Seneca “We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.”

The fear of what might happen or what actions really mean are powerful forces – forces that affect us at home, in our teams at work and in our productivity.

These are indeed turbulent times, just look at the recent events in Charlottesville, VA. This not the only issue causing uncertainty and stress – consider changing global trade agreements, climate change and immigration for starters plus uncertainty about growth, leading millennials, robotics and the fourth industrial revolution. There has never been a more important time for leadership at all levels to step up to the plate in a strong way.

To lead through such turbulent times requires a few very specific actions. As Eric McNulty explains on my radio show this week Leading in Turbulent Times, leaders need to be crystal clear about three things:

1. The company’s purpose – its reason for being and how it creates value for stakeholders;

2. The values – the unshakable commitments to how the firm will interact with its stakeholders;

3. Performance metrics – how success will be measured.

Clear, firm statements in these three areas help offset the uncertainty we all feel. The CEOs and others who are taking public stands on racism, for example, are moving in this direction. And, as always, actions speak louder than words.

In turbulent times, none of us can underestimate the power of making human-to-human connections whether in our work or non-work lives.

For organizations, this means leaders should make an effort to be seen as well as heard. A company-wide email may be efficient; walking around to ask how people are feeling and answer their questions will have far greater impact. Research shows that one of the primary drivers of psychological satisfaction at work is relatedness – feeling part of a team. It isn’t a matter of asking people to shut out external unrest but rather acknowledging it while reinforcing that people within the company care for each other and that the work they do together is meaningful.

It strikes me that the above advice is just as relevant to each of us individuals, particularly in turbulent times.

1. What is your personal purpose and mission? Steve Miller, Emily Esfahani Smith and Arthur Woods have spoken very clearly on Out of the Comfort Zone about how to define these for yourself.

2. What are your values? What do you stand for? Who do you want to be in the world? How do you want to relate to people, family, work, money, and life?

3. How will you measure your own success? Promotion and pay are probably not the best indicators as those are external benchmarks. The measures that lead to greatest meaning and satisfaction are derived from internal benchmarks.

4. How are you engaging others in conversation? How are you creating understanding for yourself and for those around you?

Turbulence can actually present an opportunity to build cohesion and engagement. To do that, leaders must have the courage to address sometimes controversial issues openly and honestly in dialogue that includes many voices.


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