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Leading Through Change: Learning To Make Proactive Decisions From A Place Of Uncertainty

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by Marsha Acker, CEO of TeamCatapult and author of “Build Your Model for Leading Change: A Guided Workbook to Catalyze Clarity and Confidence in Leading Yourself and Others

How do you lead with confidence when you’re surrounded by uncertainty?

The world is only getting more complex. It can feel like things are shifting at an uncontrollable pace. In this environment of uncertainty and future unknowns, it can be daunting to make confident decisions.

When things are constantly changing, how do you move forward effectively?

I work with many leaders navigating these questions. Often, they’ll simply hold back on making any more decisions. After all, they think, if more changes are coming, why not wait until there’s more certainty and clarity in a couple of weeks?

Unfortunately, what they usually discover is that there is not more certainty ahead. The world of business and innovation is moving too rapidly. New priorities are constantly emerging. Deferring to later is only likely to compound the feeling of decision paralysis.

So, what if we, as leaders, learned to embrace uncertainty instead? What if we learned to treat it as a constant companion rather than a condition or event we need to survive?

What would change for you as a leader if you embraced this way of thinking?

We know that things will always and often be changing. The one thing we can control is how we want to relate to change.

The following key principles are frequently used by leaders who have learned to make effective decisions in the midst of change. Explore them one by one and consider how they might expand your own ability to embrace uncertainty and lead with confidence.

Be here now.

When there is shifting sand under your feet, find a way to bring yourself into the present moment. When we try to look forward too far into the future, things only get more unpredictable. It’s when we try to read the future that we can get “wobbly” about making decisions.

So, find your way of becoming present and grounded in this moment. Take a deep breath and focus on the here and now. Not a week later, not a month later, not six months later. Right now. This is a space of certainty.

Find certainty in the uncertainty.

Our brains crave certainty. So, if it feels like you are operating with less certainty, identify what you do know. Ask yourself, “What do I know to be true right now? What’s the data that I have at this moment?”

Imagine, for example, a re-org that is re-assigning everyone into new roles. This kind of change introduces lots of uncertainty! So, what are the things that you are certain about? This could include the fact that the changes will all take place within the next 2 weeks. That everyone’s role is changing, and no one has been left out. That no one will receive a change in pay as a result.  In this example, the leader is identifying the facts about what they do know so that there are boundaries around the uncertainty. 

What’s the next most important decision?

From a place of being “grounded in the moment,” always asking yourself, “What’s the next most important decision I need to make right now?” And then just make it with the data that you have right now.

We can’t know or predict the future, so if decisions can wait — let them wait! But if a decision needs to be made now, then make it. If and when you get it “wrong,” adjust and make a new decision. Let people know that you got it wrong and you’re adjusting. Identifying and making the decision that needs to be made now keeps us from getting stranded on the shoals of “Why bother if everything’s just going to change again anyways.” That thinking is not helpful to you or those you lead.

Communicate often, openly, and honestly.

Communicate as often as you can. Be a clear and present voice for people. Help them find certainty in the predictability of knowing they will hear from you often and frequently. Do not lose your voice or get silent in the face of lots of change.

There was recently a cruise ship that made headlines for its decision to head directly into a tropical storm. During the event, the captain went silent for 12 hours without any communication with the passengers. Nobody knew what was happening. In the absence of communication and data, we will make up our own stories — and they will most certainly be worse than what is actually happening. As a leader, people want to hear from you. They want to know what you know — and it’s useful to say what you don’t know, too.

Communicating effectively in uncertain times also includes acknowledging others’ feelings and being authentic about your own. You don’t need to overshare, but connecting on a human level creates a shared investment in moving forward together.

 

Marsha Acker, CPF, CPCC, PCC, is author of  “Build Your Model for Leading Change: A Guided Workbook to Catalyze Clarity and Confidence in Leading Yourself and Others. She is also the author of “The Art & Science of Facilitation: How to Lead Effective Collaboration with Agile Teams” and the host of the Defining Moments of Leadership podcast. She is the founder and CEO of TeamCatapult, a leadership development firm that equips leaders at all levels to facilitate and lead sustainable behavioral change.