Leading in Uncertain Times
David Freund, Chief Leadership Officer

As leaders, we are facing very uncertain times. Just yesterday, I received an email from a friend and colleague who simply said, “Here we go again.” Like me, my friend is an old warrior in manufacturing. He has been there, done that, and seen more than one crisis. You know you are getting older when you hear the news referring to historical events, and you remember living through them, not reading about them. My friend’s words were very comforting to me. “Here we go again” means we have been through this before. It’s not new. Yes, today’s issue (COVID-19) is unique, but pandemics, market corrections, and times of heightened anxiety are not new, and this, like those of the past, will pass. Today’s news will someday be a reference point that others will use to get their bearings. Please don’t think that I am making light of a very serious situation. COVID-19 and the effect it is having on our society are very real. We must heed the advice of our health officials and all do our part to help flatten the curve on the pandemic.

We are also facing a time of great opportunity: the opportunity to lead our families, organizations, and community at large. As leaders, we need to start with ourselves. Just like on an airplane, we must secure our oxygen masks first and then take care of others. Our families and teams are looking for our reactions. We need to realize that whatever is inside of us, we will be transferring to others. Fear and uncertainty are normal and should be acknowledged. Saturday morning, a coaching client of mine sent me a text which read, “I have so many people asking me how I’m able to lead in such unprecedented uncertainty.” This young leader, who is responsible for a large school district, finds great comfort and solace by engaging with a thinking partner. When we can talk out our concerns and fears, they begin to become manageable problems. Realize that leaders, just like everyone else, get surprised. From one day to the next, things change, and there isn’t any way for us to know what will happen. Having our inner circle of thinking partners is the key.

Now that we have our oxygen mask secured, its time to engage with our teams. Slow down and connect. Your team needs to know that you care about them and their families. Don’t dismiss or ignore the problems they bring up. They are very real and can quickly become debilitating for them. Be empathetic and compassionate. As the leader, we need to be the voice of hope and clarity. Help them see that every problem has a solution and that together we have the best chance of finding it. As our social distancing becomes a reality, don’t forget to stay connected. Find ways to increase connections. Technology is our friend, and we need to explore how we can use it to stay connected. I was recently reminded that during decades of violence and civil war, priests in Uganda made sure they always wore their collars so the people could find them in the crowds. As a leader, are you wearing your collar, can your team see you in the crowd?

Opportunity is everywhere. Whenever there is a crisis, there is also opportunity. As human beings, we don’t like change, but when a crisis comes, we must change. Learning to see before others see, and learning to see more than others see, gives the leader the leverage to build stronger, more versatile families, organizations, and communities at large. As my old manufacturing warrior friend said: “Here we go again.” So true, and just like so many times in the past, those families, organizations, and communities with great leaders were better off than before the crisis.

If you would like to continue this discussion, please join Marisa Norcross and me on Episode 145 of The Next Page podcast as we take a closer look at what actions we all can take to succeed and thrive in this crisis.

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