strategic ambiguity

7 Ways to Lead Well During Times of Uncertainty and Change

Sometimes when you go to build your strategic plan, it can seem like there are more questions than answers. We’ve seen changing regulatory environments, disruptive technology, and natural disasters lead to a paralyzing cycle of “what ifs” that lead to inaction. One of the best skills you can develop as a leader is learning to help your team strategically manage through ambiguity and change.

Ways to Help Your Team Deal With Ambiguity

“Accepting that the world is full of uncertainty and ambiguity does not and should not stop people from being pretty sure about a lot of things.” – Julian Baggini

1. Ground Yourself In Confident Humility

Know your strengths and consider what behaviors have served you well during other times of stress and change. If times of uncertainty don’t lead to your shining moments of leadership brilliance, acknowledge that. Seek out team members who find change and ambiguity exhilarating to help you with your plan. Do your freaking-out in private. In uncertain times, nothing will calm and inspire your team more than your “game on” attitude.

2. Draw Strength from Your Mission

It’s easy to feel like everything is uncertain in times of uncertainty. That’s never true.  Reinforce your mission and core values–and communicate what’s not going to change, no matter what. Help your team draw strength from your bigger “why.”

Own the Ugly3. Know What You Collectively Know and What You Don’t

Chances are that you and your team know more than you think. Resist the urge to focus only on what everyone already knows. Write that down, but then add to the list of what each person knows or suspects based on their area of expertise. Then write down what you don’t know, and brainstorm ways to gather more information in that arena. A very useful exercise we use to help leaders navigate strategic ambiguity is our Own the U.G.L.Y. conversation. 

4. Don’t Waffle

When you make decisions, stop second-guessing them out loud. If you need to change course, do it boldly with strong communication and explanation. Otherwise, keep your boat sailing swiftly in the announced direction.

5. Encourage Risk Taking

Even if you’ve reacted poorly to mistakes before, admit that, and promise support in taking calculated risks. Put in place whatever parameters and checkpoints you need to feel comfortable in your world, but allow space for creativity and brilliant thinking. You need every single brain cell operating on full-cylinder at times like these, not censored with fear of making mistakes.

6. Envision Alternative Scenarios

When the future is uncertain, it’s easy to think that “anything could happen.” That’s seldom true. More often the most probable scenarios can be boiled down to two or three. Brainstorm those possibilities and develop contingency plans. This exercise goes a long way in calming minds and spirits while generating creative possibilities that could actually work across scenarios.

7. Engage Other People and Perspectives

The more people you engage in the solution, the less frightening the problem becomes. Enlist unusual suspects to weigh-in.  Engage some cross-functional collaboration. Benchmark externally. Ask your children (hey, you never know).

Most importantly keep your cool and focus on the possible.

Your turn. How do you lead well during times of strategic ambiguity?

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Posted in Winning Well.

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

One Comment

  1. I have found it productive to lay out a spectrum of possible outcomes, from the worst case scenario to the best case. Reality falls somewhere in between but if we’re prepared, it’s not quite as hard. Don’t be afraid to embrace the “worst that could happen”…it’s not negative thinking—it’s intelligent thinking. If we are prepared, it’s far easier to land on our feet even if the worse case scenario is what we have to deal with…

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