Uncertainty, Resilience, Motivation and Leadership
By Wanda T. Wallace
As I reflect on all the questions I received in 2020 the number one topic by far was on coping with uncertainty. All of us I think are trying to understand how to keep ourselves and our teams motivated, engaged and productive in so much uncertainty. For people who are planners, the levels of uncertainty and therefore change are particularly disheartening. Here’s what I have learned about navigating uncertainty.
The more wedded you are to a particular plan of action or a particular outcome, the harder uncertainty hits you. Therefore, make a few first steps of a plan, evaluate, re-group if necessary and then make the next few steps. Keep the long-term goal in mind but stop short of planning every step and every milestone. That makes it easier to adjust when circumstances change.
Control has always been an illusion. “Control what you can” has always been part of the advice on uncertainty. In truth, there is little that one person has control over when it comes to business. On just about everything that matters (performance, customers, processes, recognition) others have a lot of influence over the outcome. In the face of uncertainty, all you can control, I believe is how you think and what you do next. Focus on those. Change your thinking and your perspective and make a single next step plan.
There is a lot we don’t know. Acknowledging lack of experience or lack of understanding makes you a better leader. You can’t know it all. Uncertainty forces us to admit what we do not know or do not understand. Curiosity is the antidote.
The broader your network the better. We all need deep allies and colleagues we trust. While they are enormously helpful, they rarely tell us something we don’t already know. To break out of a current status quo, you need people who think very differently than you and who have very different experiences. New approaches and new perspective most often come from the breadth not the depth of your relationships.
The current state of affairs may well be the future state of affairs. You can’t think about approaches to uncertainty if you are engaged in much delusional thinking about how and when the situation will change. I think one of the most distressing thought patterns of 2020 is the notion that this will all go back to normal in 3 months and then in 3 more months and so on. That type of thinking is depressing. Instead focus on the reality and admit that we may never go back to the way things were. Ask yourself if that is true, how I am going to work now? Create a plan that addresses the current situation instead of one that pretends the situation is merely a blip.
You are not alone. Nothing is as disheartening as isolation. We are social creatures and when we feel we have too few to trust and don’t belong, then we may well be at our worst as human beings. Reach out – show a bit of vulnerability – admit that you are struggling. I think you will be surprised by how much others are feeling the same way. I know one of the things I have done in seminars and coaching throughout the year is just provide current data on how others around the world are feeling. You are not the only one struggling – I promise – and there is no shame in saying so.
I know the research on uncertainty and resilience backs up my statements above. I also know from my personal experience the above work as well. We have had to rethink our business model. We may never go back to exactly what we were doing and had planned to do in March of 2020. I had to ask myself: “So now what?”. That is probably a good thing in the end because it forced me to re-invent products and approaches. Quite honestly I am rather excited about those opportunities. I too have struggled with the isolation at times and every time I reach out to someone who is not in my inner-most circle, I have found renewed connection and greater energy. This is part of why I am excited about our new Social Membership service.
What is clear to me on reflection in 2020 is that the crisis will force us to do things we should have done all along. If we embrace the uncertainty, we will become better managers and leaders. We will make better business plans. And we will be better prepared for the next round of change and chaos regardless the cause.