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Leadership through uncertainty

CCLBlog Cultural Excellence Leadership through uncertainty

Leadership through uncertainty

How do you stick to what you said last week? How do you build the team in the virtual space? How do you communicate the next change? How will the team respond?

Time never stands still and nor does leadership. Times are forever changing and leading through this consistent uncertainty can be very daunting. How do you stick to what you said last week? How do you keep everyone happy? How do you build the team in this virtual space? How do you communicate this next change? How will they respond?


Many questions you will be asking yourself and many doubtful moments on your own leadership style. So what do you do? Just keep quiet and hope the uncertainty will pass you by? Blame others or the organisation? Or do the right thing…tell the truth!


Right now you will have so many deliverables to achieve whilst at the same time leading and inspiring people to get there. Oh and coupled with this is the uncertainty of what tomorrow looks like. Let me take you back to a time when the leadership message played a vital role in achieving the required results.


In 2013 I was deployed on operations in Afghanistan and worked within a team that had to move the goal posts on a daily basis. Our main focus was to provide mentoring expertise to the local police service in Helmand province. Along with this was the threat of suicide attacks, small arms fire, mortar attacks and improvised explosive devices. This uncertainty played a massive part of the lives our our soldiers for 7 months. That’s everyday, for 7 months! So what was the leadership message in order to constantly deliver, on time, every time?


  1. Give clarity. Each evening we, a company strength of around 80, were briefed on the current situation around the province. What enemy activity had occurred in the last 24 hours, what intelligence has been gathered in order to prepare us for the next 24 hours. The next 24 hours was not always relevant to our area of responsibility, but what it did was prepare us for every eventuality. Kept us focussed and alert. That’s the same in business, if you understand the current situation, it keeps you on your toes and as a team you can adapt to the new situation.
  1. Lead by example. “The standard you walk past, is the standard you expect, and set”. When leading, you have to demonstrate that what you talk about is backed up in practice. If you tell your team to do something, then do what you can to demonstrate success. Just because you are in a leadership role, doesn’t make you exempt in doing the chores. A couple of years ago I was at a large conference at a large UK bank and the new CEO had been appointed a few months earlier. So I asked the question, how has the new CEO settled in? The reply exemplifies this sub title; “he certainly does lead by example, at 0700 a workforce had been established to clear away all the snow at the front doors in order for the employees to arrive and not be hindered by the bad weather, the CEO had a shovel in his hand and helped clear away the snow, it was well received”. A great example was set.
  1. Encourage thinking. As a leader, unfortunately, you don’t always have all the answers! Many leaders think they need to show there intellect and prove themselves at all times, including coming up with all the ideas and then deciding which idea was/is the best. This is so untrue! When I led a patrol in Helmand I would always ask the team what they thought of the plan, it wouldn’t matter if the most junior member had a better idea, I would go with it. Sometimes EGO gets in the way, and when it does, you don’t maximise the brain power in the team. Not only does this allow others to think, it also makes them feel a valuable part of the team and makes them understand that no matter how daft they think the question/observation was/is, they would say it anyways as it may be the golden nugget. Invest in your teams brain power.
  1. Embed a Growth mind-set. How many of you have team members who simply cannot see a way forward once they haven’t achieved what they set out to achieve? That’s what we call a “Fixed mind-set” – “I tried, didn’t succeed, therefore what’s the point? I won’t do that again!” This kind of mindset is not helpful when you’re trying to lead through uncertainty. You need to grow a team who can remain adaptable and see things as an opportunity, we call this having a “Growth mind-set” – “that didn’t quite work out well, okay, what can I learn from it, next time I do that I will do this bit differently”. This will require the leader to ask the right questions so the team get use to seeing things as an opportunity and empowering them to see alternatives.
  1. Have a sense of humour. As daft as it may sound, to many leaders remain very serious day to day. You will get very tired, very quickly! Having a laugh, showing your vulnerable side, when the time is right, will go a long way. I was talking to a ex Philippine Special Forces soldier (who is now a plasterer in Surrey, England) and he said what he used every day to keep his teams motivated and together was a “sense of humour”. He said; “things happen, sometimes very good, sometimes very bad, but I use to do whatever I could to put a smile back on the faces of my team”. Again, this may appear a simple method, but how many leaders do you know are very good at this and how many not so? Give it a go!

Leading through uncertainty can become challenging and very draining, but one thing is for sure; time never stands still and nor does leadership. You have to be consistent with your messages and behaviours. Teams are incredibly powerful when they have as much clarity as possible and they feel part of something meaningful. Give them the clarity, be consistent and do it all with a smile.