Leading in times of uncertainty is critical, especially during the global spread of a deadly virus and the current economic meltdown. How emotionally resilient are you in times of instability? On top of the burden of managing your own internal emotions around the pandemic and the unpredictability of the future, managing an entire team and their fluctuating feelings and varying needs can feel overwhelming for a leader. How well are you handling the unpredictability of COVID-19 and the pressures of leading a stressed-out and anxious team?

None of us know what is coming next or can control what the future may hold, and that uncertainty can be paralyzing. However, as leaders, we must buckle down, make decisions and move forward even in the face of ambiguity. The main question is, how?

Let’s be honest; no one can ever completely understand what the future has in store for you and your team, and what the aftermath of COVID-19 will have on your organization and the world economy.

The best way to manage ambiguity and have the courage to make decisions is to find ways to cope and try your best to lead your team through the uncertainty by using emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the magic ingredient to lead in uncertain times. One of the critical components of emotional intelligence is learning how to make decisions when emotions are involved and teaching your people to do the same. As leaders, you need to give up the belief that a perfect solution will come to you if you wait long enough. Taking too long to make decisions until you have the complete information at your fingertips can be costly; therefore, leading in times of uncertainty requires leaders to take risks and act.

The following are four vital coping mechanisms to help you lead in times of uncertainty with grace and composure.

1. Lead with Core Values

Instead of formulating a contingency plan for every possible unknown, leaders should turn to the anchors of their business – the company’s core values and purpose. When the world is shaking, grab hold to the things that bring stability to your organization. Your corporate values are your guiding principles that dictate your behaviours and actions.  Roy Disney once said, “when your values are clear to you, making decisions become easier.”

Our values can serve as our internal GPS and steer us to live and lead each day, even amongst the murkiness. Columbia University professor, Paul Ingram, has studied the role of values within business organizations for many years and argues that values can serve as our internal control system.

A collective prioritization of values helps employees and teams work through the uncertainty. Once leaders can find solidarity within their organization through their core values and the company’s vision, their teams can come together and stand behind these guiding principles, which will make them stronger.

2. Focus on the Learning

Try not to only focus on the disruption COVID-19 has brought into our lives, and try to find the learning you are gaining from the crisis. What has the uncertainty about our future made you realize about yourself? How do you show up for your team or family in stressful times? How has your emotional state impacted how you lead and make decisions personally and professionally?

Take some time to reflect on the learning you have gained during the pandemic, and decide what you need to work on to be a better employee, leader, life partner, parent and human being.  The more you know yourself, the better you will be at adapting to life’s challenges healthily and successfully.

Besides, what can your company learn from the pandemic? How can you create new products and pivot your services to address the changes the epidemic has brought upon us? How can your organization better engage employees while they work remotely? How can you innovate how you design your products or deliver your services to meet people’s newly defined needs? There is always a lesson to learn amongst the most profound tragedies. British writer, C.S Lewis said it best, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” How can you learn and grow as a person and as an organization?

3. Mental Toughness and Emotional Resilience

Productivity is one of the many obstacles that come with leading in times of uncertainty. Highly distracted or stressed people don’t and can’t innovate and change. As leaders, we must develop our staff to take risks, spur ingenuity, have autonomous thoughts, and innovate when change is upon us. The first step towards encouraging innovation inside your teams is to value knowledge and lead by example, seeing challenges as learning opportunities.

COVID-19 has undoubtedly been a challenge for the world, but as a leader, if you model the way and demonstrate your mental toughness, you can help people get through these challenging times.  Mental toughness is a term used in psychology to refer to the grit and strength that people possess to soldiers through struggles and success. It is having a positive mental attitude, coping skills, and the emotional resilience necessary to overcome life’s challenges.

Mentally tough leaders don’t let stress or distractions prevent them from continuing the march towards their vision, and make a habit of building up the people around them all of the time. Encourage your staff to always think of better ways as the world is continuously changing. Though crises and global shifts are unpredictable, we can learn to predict and manage how people respond emotionally. How? Check-in with your people regularly and coach them through their emotional barriers. The key here is to make sure your team feels cared for, acknowledged for the current challenges in their lives, and supported by you as their leader. When people feel a sense of connection to the company and appreciated for their efforts during these challenging times, it will improve how they feel and perform at work.

4. Foster a Positive Work Environment

When leading through uncertainty, one of your significant duties is fostering a positive work environment. Strong leadership that encourages open and honest communication is vital to creating a positive feeling in the workplace. Put yourself in your employees’ shoes. Remember that every employee has a different tolerance to ambiguity. Having empathy for those around you that don’t cope well with change or the unfamiliar is essential in leadership.

Giving them time and space to share how they are genuinely feeling will go a long way, making your employees feel understood, heard and seen. Demonstrating empathy doesn’t require you as a leader to have the answers. Just acknowledge and feel with them.  Empathy is feeling with, whereas sympathy is feeling for someone. As a leader, if you give your employees a platform to talk and share how they are coping with all of the changes, they will end up feeling more engaged and motivated to be part of the solution.

Your staff is in a place where stress and emotions are consuming not only their work life but also their personal life. Leaders need to practice self-management and stay focused and composed when times are difficult and try to create a positive work environment. If you lose your calm and controlled demeanour when situations turn challenging and chaotic, your team members may feel and internalize your energy. Inevitably, this could create a tense and stressful work environment that will make your job as a leader even more challenging to manage.

Preparing for Uncertainty

Even before the global pandemic, rapid technological change, growing economic interdependence, and mounting political instability had conspired to make the future increasingly murky. The reality is: there isn’t a direct solution to prepare for uncertainty. Uncertainty is all around us. But, once the pandemic hit, the ambiguity of our futures went into a tailspin. However, the good news is that leaders can use emotional intelligence to help lead during these challenging times.

Being aware of how you are feeling, and being attuned to your people’s feelings is critical. Then, use that emotional self-awareness and empathy as data to make sound strategic decisions. Focus on your core values and use those as anchors to guide your decision-making process and employees in the right direction. Creating an in-depth contingency plan may also prepare you for recurring inconveniences within your organization.

Determine what the pandemic can teach you about yourself as a leader and what your company can do better with the new and emerging needs and trends. Model the way and be emotionally resilient and mentally tough for your employees. They are watching how you respond during these challenging times. Offer them the time and space to vent and share how COVID-19 has impacted their personal and professional lives. When people feel cared for, it’s incredible what they can and will accomplish.

To learn more about building emotional resilience in your workplace or leading during these changing times, check out either of these workshops – Improving Emotional Resilience or Leading Through Change.  Also, please check out our three new special packages to help your team connect and cooperate, decompress and deliver, and sharpen and succeed, whether they are face-to-face or working remotely!

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