LEADING THROUGH UNCERTAINTY – Top 8 Tips for Leading Your People when the Future is Hanging in the Balance

You cannot open a newspaper or listen to the radio or TV nowadays without hearing about some organisation that is downsizing, closing down or completely restructuring itself. Global companies are moving their operations to ‘cheaper’ locations, public service organisations are having their budgets slashed while many are just failing to keep their heads above water in the current economic crisis.

We only hear the news when the final decisions are made public. But for many of these organisations, they have already had to endure weeks and months of waiting and wondering where and when the axe was going to fall. Thousands of people are getting up every day and going to work worrying about if, and for how long more, they are going to have a job. Many leaders are lying awake at night struggling with how long more they can sustain looking their people in the eye and telling them that they still don’t know what the future holds. The stresses all round are massive.

And yet, you can’t give up. There is still a job to be done. There is product to get out the door, people to be looked after, customers to be served. How do you manage to contain the anxieties of your organisation’s people and still focus on getting the job done? How do you prepare your people for the worst outcome and still keep striving for the best?

Here are some tips to follow that will help you do just that:

  1. Honesty - Be as honest as possible with your staff. Resist the urge to “protect them from the truth”. They are adults, just like you, and while they may not like what you say, they will in the long run appreciate your candour.
  2. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Connect with your staff three times as much as you would in normal times. Be clear, be honest, be direct. Remember, communication is a two-way process. Allow them to communicate with you.  Make space in your diary for communication.  Have an open door policy.
  3. Listen. Give people the space to express their anxieties and fears. When people feel heard themselves they are better able to be open to what others have to say. Very often, just being heard can provide enough release to allow people become “unstuck” and move on.
  4. Focus – Focus on what needs to be done right now as well as what can be done. Do not be distracted by what is not possible.
  5. Resist the urge to “rescue” your staff from their anxieties. By “rescue” I mean reassuring your staff that everything will be ok and then taking on the impossible burden of trying to ensure that everything does turn out ok for them. It may or it may not turn out to be “ok” for them but the chances are that this outcome is out of your hands. Rather than rescue, acknowledge that times are difficult and ask your staff what they need in order to support themselves better.
  6. Bigger picture. In times of anxiety our awareness contracts and all we can focus on are the issues and obstacles in front of us. In order to see beyond this into the realm of solutions and paths forward we need to expand our awareness and start seeing the bigger picture. As leader, you can play a vital role in drawing your people’s attention to this bigger picture. If you are struggling with seeing this bigger picture clearly yourself, get help from a coach, a mentor or a trusted advisor.
  7. Appreciation and pride. Use every opportunity to appreciate the good work that is being done by your people. Ignite and keep alive their pride in what they have achieved over the years and continue to achieve every day.
  8. Prepare yourself – If you are worried about being able to be strong and supportive for your staff in the event of negative outcomes in the future work through all the possible outcomes in your mind, or better still, with your management team. Decide what the possible future scenarios might be. Work through each one in turn. Sit with each scenario for a while as if it was really happening. See what it feels like for each of you. Pay attention to what emotions it brings up. Don’t judge these emotions – there is no right or wrong way to feel. But realise that different people will react differently to the same scenarios. This will allow you feel more prepared and grounded when facing the eventual outcomes with your staff.

To learn more about how you can bring your organisation successfully through challenging times check out Space For Change at www.spaceforchange.ie.

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