Leading Through Uncertainty
When people feel uncertain, their stress increases and their productivity decreases.
But here’s the problem - these are very uncertain times! So one of the greatest challenges that managers face today is leading through uncertainty.
There’re three types of uncertainty - “future”, “momentary” and “hind sight”.
- Future uncertainty is caused by questions that can't be answered today.
- Momentary uncertainty is caused by the tough choices that are more immediate.
- And hindsight uncertainty is caused by choices we’ve already made.
People hate uncertainty because it feels dangerous. If you don’t know what to expect, don’t know what to do, or you’re second guessing yourself, you begin to sense danger. This sense of danger is a natural human tendency that leaders have to manage, because uncertainty creates doubt and doubt erodes confidence.
When people lack confidence, they become unmotivated and take a “wait-and-see attitude”, and that’s why their productivity decreases. And when confidence drops, their negative thoughts begin to spiral out of control, and that’s why their stress increases.
In uncertain times, people's minds race across time, bouncing between the past, present and future.
- “Did I do the right thing?”
- “What should I do now?”
- “What's going to happen?”
When people sense danger, you have to make them feel safer. And here’s how you do that -
- Help people prioritize, so they know what's important.
- Help them plan, so they know exactly what to do. (And coach them, so they know “how to do it”!)
- Give feedback, especially timely feedback, so people know where they stand.
- And express gratitude, so people know that they're valued.
When people know “what's important”, “what to do”, “how to do it”, “where they stand” and “how much they're valued”; they’ll feel safer. And psychological safety is the best antidote for uncertainty.
It’s not easy. It's a constant mental tug-of-war. Their thoughts of danger are tugging against thoughts of safety. But you can influence their thinking.
Be honest, be empathetic and be consistent, and people will feel safer.
Be available, show interest and gratitude, and people will feel safer.
It takes confidence to lean into uncertainty, and you’re the best one to build their confidence.