For leaders, it is difficult to manage during times of uncertainty. Read these five key strategies on how to lead, prepare, and plan for the future.
Leadership is being prepared to step into the unknown.
Covid-19 has created an environment of extreme uncertainty this year and forced many leaders to wrestle with challenges they’ve never come across before. Now, however, we appear to be inching ever closer to the roll-out of a vaccine, which should enable governments around the world to take control of the virus and individuals to return to more ‘normal’ lives.
While a vaccine will hopefully reduce the pressure on organizations – and therefore on their leaders – it will not necessarily put an end to uncertainty. The social, economic and political reverberations of Covid-19 are likely to continue for years to come, creating new uncertainties for leaders to manage. So, how can they lead in an era when nobody knows exactly what will happen next?
1. Think through possible scenarios
“Two critical acts can help leaders faced with the kind of extreme uncertainty we’re experiencing at the moment,” says Scott Smith, futurist, managing partner of consultancy Changeist, and co-author of How to Future: Leading and Sensemaking in an Age of Hyperchange. “These are developing a working point-of-view around possible futures, and setting up practices and processes to feed that outlook. Too often, leaders feel the need to go to extremes: predict the future, or stay the course, and neither are really feasible.
Smith believes that leaders should collect and make sense of signals of change, share that sensemaking, and set up practices to regularly think through possible future scenarios that can help to sharpen an organization’s forward view. He says that creating the habit of regularly thinking about what’s next “helps create a working ‘map’ of the future that can be valuable even in steadier times”.
2. Tap into your organization’s purpose
“The first thing to do is ground your business in strategic clarity,” says Campbell Macpherson, an international change expert and the author of The Power to Change: How to harness change and make it work for you. “Reaffirm who your business exists to serve and why. Now is the time to revisit what makes your business special – what gives you the ‘right to win’ in this new world?”
The second step, he says, is to create an extraordinary leadership team – “a strong, unified, genuinely collaborative team based on mutual respect and trust, which delivers shared objectives together”.
Next, he argues, it’s key to ensure all leaders throughout the organization know how to lead successful change and that all your people are ready, willing and able to embrace it.
Finally, Macpherson says it’s essential to smash the bureaucracy. “Don’t let it get in the way of encouraging informed risk-taking and innovation, learning from failing fast and celebrating successful change.”
3. Start with a hypothesis
“Blank pieces of paper are really difficult to work with,” says Julia Shalet, an innovator known as Product Doctor and author of The Really Good Idea Test. “Even at times of uncertainty, it is better to start with something – a hypothesis of what you think is achievable based on the evidence you have – and work from there.”
She continues: “Uncertainty makes it even more important to test ideas before we invest huge amounts of resources. Find a relevant target group of people, customers, clients, employees, users or stakeholders and use structured eye-to-eye video interviews to gather evidence. Start small and then learn, repeat, iterate and expand your group size – the answers you collect will help you build a much clearer picture to support your hypothesis… or not.”
4. Undertake regular planning
“Planning should not be a special, one-off event,” explains Arif Harbott,a transformation expert and co-author of The HERO Transformation Playbook. “It should be a very regular occurrence where a team comes together to think through options and collectively agree the path forward. Plans should be updated with any emergent data, different viewpoints discussed, and trade-offs always made with the project objective in mind.”
He adds: “Remember that plans are hypotheses, not facts. Once you execute your plan, look at whether you are getting closer or further away from your objective, then assess your next best action. You can then rinse and repeat this process until your project outcome is successfully achieved.”
5. Don’t let uncertainty stop you moving forward
“During this turbulent time, many leaders will find they actually have a chance to sit and explore some ideas,” says Mindy Gibbins-Klein, a global thought leadership expert, founder of Panoma Press and author of The Thoughtful Leader. “Create a full list of ideas, considering every possibility for change, and then pick two – one that gets you excited and one that feels scary.”
She continues: “The one that gets you excited will be easy to start and fill you with joy and positive energy – and that will, in turn, rub off on other areas of your life. The scary idea is also important, since it stretches you and gets you out of your comfort zone. When you achieve that goal, it will feel even more fulfilling than the easier ones.”
Gibbins-Klein believes that taking positive steps towards a goal is extremely motivating during uncertain times. “So, don’t be afraid to share what you have decided with a trusted friend or your network. They can hold you accountable and celebrate with you when you make progress.”
So, what now?
It’s not easy to lead when you don’t know what’s going to happen next. But then it’s not easy to lead – period. The great thing about leading in a time of great uncertainty is that it gives you more opportunities to experiment and take risks than you might get in steadier times. Don’t let those opportunities pass you by.
This article was written by Sally Percy from Forbes and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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