How to Guide Your Team Through Uncertain Times, According to 4 Leaders

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Ivy Exec51
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May 19, 2024 at 5:9PM UTC
There have been few times in recent history that have been quite as ambiguous as 2020 through 2022. The pandemic has forced companies to switch to fully-remote work, add hybrid schedules, return to in-person schedules, move back to fully-remote work, and so on – all with little warning. Companies have had to cope with high levels of uncertainty, to say the least. 
Uncertain times require even more determined leadership, however. The key to leading effectively in times of change is being flexible enough to make choices, despite ambiguity, modify these decisions as needed, and change what isn’t working – again and again. 
“The [decision-making] process begins with an understanding that it is OK if the decision turns out to be wrong when reflected upon in three, six or 12 months. Ambiguity is embraced, and mistakes are accepted. The important part is not to repeat the mistakes and hope you get more decisions right than wrong,” writes Amit Jain for Forbes.
What are other tactics for leading through an unknown future? Leaders weigh in. 

Expand your zone of awareness

The more in tune with your zone of awareness, the more likely you will be able to sense changes afoot, giving you more time to react and respond. Chutisa and Steven Bowman suggest a zone of awareness gives leaders an edge in responding to industry innovation and industries’ ever-expanding potential for change. 
To expand your zone of awareness, answer the following questions: 
  • What’s possible for our organization?
  • What do I need to be aware of here?
  • What emerging technologies could change the game? What can we do about this?
  • Could there be future changes or surprises that could harm or benefit us?
  • Where can I put my energy, that would change something?

Communicate clearly about team members’ goals in the long and short term

In times of ambiguity, teams need more specific objectives and instructions to thrive. 
“Improved clarity about the purpose and strategic direction of the organization, and an alignment of this purpose with employees’ personal performance expectations can help people cope better with the challenges imposed by ambiguity,” explains Korn Ferry.
There are two parts to offering this level of specific direction: guiding your team towards their long-term outcomes and identifying the short-term processes they should hone in on. 
For instance, you could describe the company’s strategic direction and then suggest what your team needs to move in this direction. On a more micro-level, then, you should describe how employees should use their time, mention what they are and are not responsible for, and share behaviors you would expect to see from them. 

Be transparent with employees and share everything you know with them 

Your team is likely to pick up on changes afoot. Whether these are global challenges or smaller-scale modifications, they are always watching leaders to determine what’s next and how they should feel about it. However, they may not have all the information you do, heightening the anxiety that can go hand in hand with ambiguity. 
So, be sure to offer your team the information they may not have by simply observing.
“[E]mployees in different parts of the company often don’t have regular interactions with leaders, or only see parts of the story and never receive the full context. By providing periodic reports or access to strategic activities, as well as sharing feedback on strengths and weaknesses and what is being done to address them, leaders help offer transparency to employees,” suggests PR Daily.

Improve your leadership versatility

The days of a single style of leadership are over. Instead, the best leaders are versatile, changing their management style based on the situation at hand. This ever-changing style is called “versatile leadership,” or leadership that is flexible and adaptable to different contexts. 
The versatile leader has mastered four leadership styles that they can then use in the right situations. These are: 
  • Managers use forceful leadership when they need to be assertive and make decisions with certainty. 
  • An enabling leader accepts employee input, helps employees reach goals, and empowers team members to do their best. 
  • A strategic leader focuses on goal setting, encouraging team members to think outside the box, and positioning the company for long-term growth. 
  • An operational leader develops workflows, processes, and tasks that help team members concentrate and be productive. 

Ambiguity Won’t End With the Pandemic

As we learned in the pandemic, the modern workplace needs to be more agile and adaptable than ever before. But we won’t go back to business as usual after COVID-19 becomes part of our regular lives. Instead, companies will always need to respond to uncertainty and make decisions with limited information. 
So, don’t wait to return to your pre-pandemic leadership style. Instead, consider ways that you can heighten your versatility and your comfort with ambiguity – these are your best companions for successful leadership in the 21st century. 
“Coping with ambiguity means creating a culture where employees don’t worry about the things that are outside their control, and instead focus on what they can control. And this is where great leaders add value – by creating an environment that permits each employee to be engaged and focused on making a meaningful contribution, in spite of uncertainty,” Korn Ferry notes. 
This article originally appeared in Ivy Exec.

What's your no. 1 piece of advice for leading through times of uncertainty? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

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