LEADING IN UNCERTAINTY: START BY LEADING YOURSELF
The world is in the grip of Coronavirus chaos and market mayhem. Emotional contagion is spreading even faster than the virus. At a time like this, what do we want from our leaders? Calm, of course. We also want reassurance, compassion, hope and clarity about the pathways forward.
But what if you’re the leader? What if people are looking to you for calm and certainty at a time when you feel as uncertain and anxious as they do? The first person you have to lead is yourself.
Given my job, I’m very often in conversations of this nature and two things have become abundantly clear. Firstly, no matter how senior the leader, no matter how good they are at their job, they have their own fears, worries and insecurities; that’s what makes them human. Secondly, I have to be at my very best in order to help them through whatever challenge we’re focused on.
My aim for this blog, is to help you, as a leader, better cope with your own uncertainties and worries so that you can show up well for your people at this time. Of course, there are many tactics that can be helpful, but the following three are those that I find myself returning to over and over again.
1. Double down on your well being
Our health is critical on a good day, but even more important when we’re surrounded by apparent chaos. Unfortunately, chaos can encourage the loss of self-discipline and the rise of unhelpful behaviours like consuming too much “news”, deprioritising exercise, eating poorly, sleeping less, shallow breathing, working around the clock, disconnecting from others, and so on.
We’re no good to anyone else unless we look after ourselves first. The following actions can help;
- Prioritise exercise, diet, deep breathing and rest, even more than usual. Aside from being good for you, it will also likely raise your sense of self-efficacy and self-confidence at exactly the time you need it most.
- Connect with those you love, respect and who give you energy. If you can’t connect in person, catch-up on a video call. As much as possible, avoid those who have an unhealthy love of drama.
- Narrow your media consumption to a few sources that you trust; those focused on reporting facts rather than sensationalising the situation and spreading fear.
- Pay attention to your entertainment consumption. Are the shows you watch and the books you read helping you to feel calm and relaxed, or anxious and worried? I love Homeland and Curb Your Enthusiasm equally, but Larry David is much better for my nervous system at the end of a challenging day.
2. Shift from judgment to perception
“We see the world not as it is, but as we are.” This quote has been variously ascribed to Anais Nin, Immanuel Kant, Jo Coudert and Stephen Covey, among others. Whoever said it, it’s a notion that’s particularly useful given the uncertainty we face right now. Are your worries an inevitable response to this uncertainty, or are they a reflection of how you are?
We tend to think of our judgment as objective and rational, when in fact, it’s highly subjective and often more focused on rationalizing our interpretation of events than “reality.” The problem is that when we judge things to quickly, too harshly and too absolutely, we become rigid, eliminate options and increase our sense of helplessness.
To get back our sense of agency, hope and possibility, we need to shift from judgment to perception. To be perceptive is to be open, curious, creative and insightful; attributes that are extremely useful to a leader, especially one trying to cope with a challenging environment.
If you’d like to become less judgmental and more perceptive, the following actions can help you to make this shift:
- Before you lock-in on what something means, ask yourself “what else could this mean?”
- Notice your use of absolute adverbs like ‘always’, ‘never’ and ‘every time’; they are sure signs of judgment and very often signs of unhelpful exaggeration.
- Detach from your ego and your need to be right. Instead, focus on what’s helpful or unhelpful.
- Become more curious and open. Ask more questions. Actively look for alternative meanings in any situation.
- Accept that your emotions are your responsibility. No one can make you feel anything without your compliance. Choose your emotions, intentionally, so that they serve you.
3. Ask a better question
Whether you realise it or not, your brain is asking and answering questions all day long. If you are feeling uncertain or anxious, you can bet that most of your questions are unhelpful.
Why am I feeling anxious? What if the situation gets worse? What if our customers leave? Of course, worst-case scenario planning has its place, but each of these questions is perfectly designed to induce feelings of worry, fear and uncertainty. If you’re asking them habitually, consciously or unconsciously, you’re going to find it very difficult to lead effectively.
The good news is that you can alter your emotional state, and your outcomes, just by asking a better question. Here are a few of my favourites:
What is the best outcome from here?
In the first instance, this question works because it assumes there is an outcome. Even more importantly, it assumes we accept where “here” is. We may not like the situation, but we accept it as our reality. We don’t spend any time in regret, blame or victimization.
How can I use this situation to learn and grow?
At the gym, we accept that to build new muscles we need to lift heavier weights. It’s the same with leadership. This question works because it takes our attention beyond the situation and places it on the process of learning. We no longer dread the situation; we embrace it because it represents an opportunity to develop new leadership muscles.
How can I serve others right now?
Service is a noble pursuit, perhaps the most noble. To be in service of others is to live our purpose and influence others towards theirs. It’s also very difficult to experience anxiety when we’re focused on serving others for the simple reason that we must shift our attention from “me/my worries” to “them/their needs.”
I hope these three simple tactics will help you to feel more calm, centred and confident in your leadership role at this challenging time.
If you’d like to receive future blogs, please subscribe here.