Leading Through Times of Uncertainty

Uncertainty: The lack of sureness about something or a situation because of unknown factors and the lack of adequate information.

We live in uncertain times. Winds that have so often filled our sails and provided direction and momentum have become eerily quiet. The predictable waves of prosperity that once propelled us forward have seemingly disappeared. Stillness fills the air.

Skills used to lead others through times of prosperity must be replaced with new skills that address these new challenges which include, but are not limited to, the concerns, anxiety, and frustrations of those we lead. Do these reactions qualify them as “bad” employees? Of course not. Such responses are normal. However, as a leader, you must set the example and lead positively and authentically during these times.

Skills used to lead others through times of prosperity must be replaced with new skills that address new challenges.

So what should you do?

I believe the answer can be discovered in the actions of a seasoned sailboat skipper who suddenly encounters still water and a windless sea. One of the greatest challenges for any skipper and crew!

Some sailors refer to this situation as being in the ‘doldrums or place of stagnation’ when the sea and wind are completely still. Movement toward their destination comes to an abrupt halt. Inexperienced skippers are tempted to “put out the oars” and create their own momentum just as some inexperienced organizational leaders may tell their followers to “just do something” in order to make things happen. However, I think the correct action is just the opposite. This is not the time to ‘create’ the wind and waves but rather to “take in the oars, and cast lose the sails.” Following are a few suggested ideas based upon the actions of a seasoned sailboat skipper:

1. Move toward the center of the “boat.”
This action reduces the amount of drag by raising up the stern. Providing up-to-date and regular information helps create a sense of “centered” unity. It encourages a team perspective that we are all in this together, allowing greater forward motion and fewer obstacles.

2. Minimize unnecessary movements on the boat.
These movements steal momentum from your boat. Minimize or eliminate processes and activities that create confusion and unnecessary work. Streamline practices so that less energy is required to achieve immediate goals.

3. Check and maintain navigational equipment.
Faulty equipment leads to disaster, especially when the winds and waves suddenly return. Check and maintain the infrastructure of your organizational “boat.”

4. Stay attentive.
Inattentiveness to the situation may cause an incorrect response when the weather suddenly changes. Create and maintain a simple operating strategy that will enable a quick response when the economic and environmental winds change.

5. Know that the doldrums will end.
The winds and waves will return. Leaders must encourage their followers that this time is but a moment in God’s overall plan. Be patient. He will send favorable winds once again.

Taken from Leadership Moments newsletter, Volume 1, Issue 2, 2009.
Article copyright © 2009, Focus on the Family.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
Used by permission

Dr. Peter Pintus, Ph.D., is the director of Global Organizational & Leadership Development at Focus on the Family.