HOW TO MAINTAIN MOMENTUM, EVEN WHEN IT SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE
This week’s blog was sparked by a conversation with a leadership team who are challenged by multiple, compounding layers of uncertainty around their business. In addition to the human and commercial impacts of COVID, they are also navigating a new regulatory regime, as well as a huge company restructure affecting much of their workforce.
In essence, they were asking me how to keep themselves and their people moving forward in the face of all of this uncertainty, when it felt unreasonable and even impossible at times to do so.
While the specific circumstances may be different, it’s very likely that you are also facing significant levels of uncertainty right now. The good news is that no matter how insurmountable your situation may feel, there are simple tactics that can make a meaningful difference. Before we get to those, however, let’s start with a little story.
In the early 20th century, people believed that running a four-minute mile was not only impossible, but potentially deadly. On May 6th 1954, Roger Bannister became the first person to accomplish this incredible feat. John Landy did it just 46 days later. In the next three years, 16 more runners did it. Today, over 1,000 people have successfully run a four-minute mile, including high school athletes.
We often confuse limits of what is possible with the limits of our own field of vision. When someone shows us what’s possible, suddenly we have a very different picture. That’s really our job as leaders. When there is fear, uncertainty and a sense of impossibility, we need to model what’s possible; just like Roger Bannister.
Here are three tactics to help you do that for yourself and your people.
Shift from negativity to possibility
Whatever you place your attention on gets bigger. Why? Because of a bundle of nerves situated around your brainstem called the Reticular Activating System (RAS). Think of it like your brain’s antenna. Your beliefs and priorities tell your RAS what to look for. It then filters huge amounts of data, all without you noticing, to present information consistent with the parameters you have given it.
The more you focus on uncertainty, the more uncertainty you will see. The more you focus on the crisis, the bigger the crisis will appear. The more you focus on why something can’t be done, the harder it will be to find a solution. The good news is, it works the other way too.
Many of us invest huge amounts of time and energy focusing on why something is hard or even impossible. This is particularly true in times of great uncertainty, fear and anxiety. And while this is entirely understandable, it’s not very helpful. A much better strategy is to focus 100 percent of our conscious attention onto what is possible, what we can do to move forward, and how we can use the situation to our advantage.
Acknowledge the fear and choose to act anyway
Everybody has fears, insecurities and self-doubt. Those who maintain forward momentum in periods of great uncertainty take action in spite of their fears. This will not sound very enlightened, but in the end, it matters less what you feel and more what you do.
Reflect on the circumstances that are causing you to be fearful, insecure or inactive; what exactly are you worried about? Identify three small actions you could take, right now, to positively affect your situation. Once you’ve completed those three actions, pick the next three, and so on. Pretty soon you will change your situation for the better, and you’ll be able to help others to do the same.
Create a line of sight
Your ability to maintain momentum in the face of great uncertainty is largely determined by your sense of agency; the belief that your effort makes a difference. The cruel joke is that it’s precisely during periods of uncertainty that it’s most difficult to see the real value of your contribution!
The solution is to create a clear line of sight between your efforts and your critical stakeholder outcomes, by answering the following questions;
- When do I feel most on purpose, passionate and aligned with my values?
- What do my stakeholders really need right now?
- What is the unique contribution that I can make right now?
The intersection between who you are (question 1), what others most need (question 2) and your unique contribution to them (question 3), is sure to fuel your sense of agency.
I hope this blog helps you to navigate through uncertainty and maintain forward momentum, even when it seems impossible.
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