4 Strategies for Leading in Uncertain Times

Uncertainty is scary. The unknown is scary. Leaders will always face uncertainty and the future will always be unknown.

A company team I worked with recently has some pretty big anticipated hurdles coming up in about a year. The height of the hurdles is not clear, nor if there will be ground to land on when they leap over. They’re struggling not to fret. They’re struggling not to worry.

Needless to say, this impacts focus, productivity and morale.

The management team wanted to know – in the face of these uncertain times, how can we support our teams?

Here are four of the recommendations I gave them. These can work in nearly every situation:

  1. Your team is a reflection of you – as the leader you can’t be Chicken Little. Emotions are contagious. If you’re freaking out, revving up, snowballing catastrophe, so will your team. Guaranteed. Watch your language – what are you saying about the future? You should acknowledge the fear, you just don’t want to feed it. Acknowledging the fear lets your team know that you “get it” – you’re not clueless or in denial. This is part of sharing your humanity as a leader. Stay positive, not pessimistic or Pollyanna. If you need to unabashedly “release” your own worries, share your concerns with a comforting friend outside of your workplace.
  2. Remember: What you and your team are up to in the world TODAY is bigger than this fear. You can’t let the fear become a scapegoat for not getting the work done. There is work to be done today. You have clients who need you to show up 100% today. Focus on the top three strategic action items your team can accomplish this week towards your quarterly goals. Celebrate completion. In other words, heed the words of Corrie ten Boom, whose family helped many Jewish people escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II: “Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles, it empties today of its strengths.”
  3. What actually is known and unknown? Defining these two in simple high-level bullets can be surprisingly empowering.

What’s known?

  • The present
  • We’re all in this together
  • It’s not our first rodeo
  • There’s work to do now
  • We’re resilient and resourceful
  • We’ll figure out when the time comes
  • Our commitment and convictions
  • What’s next

What’s unknown?

  • The future
  • What’s going to happen
  • The weather two weeks from now

I have a roofing company client. About 90% of its revenue is determined by Mother Nature. If there’s a storm, it makes money. If there isn’t, it doesn’t. That’s uncertainty; yet the company is not paralyzed by the uncertainty of Mother Nature.

  1. Focus on what you can control. You can always control your response, attitude, behavior, words and actions. You can always choose to be proactive rather than paralyzed. In times of uncertainty, step up ownership of your authority. When the fog is thick, they want the leader to lead.

Don’t let uncertainty undermine you or your team’s efforts. Stay on course. Focus and finish on what needs to be accomplished now.

Acknowledge the fear, but don’t feed it.

Lastly, be courageous and confident in your convictions.

Guest Post by Kris Boesch, author of Culture Works: How to Create Happiness in the Workplace. Kris is the CEO and founder of Choose People, a company that transforms company cultures.

16 Comments on “4 Strategies for Leading in Uncertain Times

  1. Pingback: Thought For the Week: Dealing w/Uncertainty | Welcome to My Corner Here on Word Press

  2. So true…I took a management, leadership and supervision course a few years ago. It talked about the need for managers to lead with confidence, and I thought about bosses I’ve had through the years. The ones I didn’t enjoy did not know how to lead. My current supervisor is amazing. He is positive, confident and has a great sense of humor. I don’t do well with supervisors that shy away from conflict, especially when I need their assistance in handling a case.

    • Thanks for your comments Cathy. The leader sets the tone for his/her team and if the leader faces the future with confidence and optimism then it’s much more likely the team will as well.


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  5. I’ve worked with leaders who hesitate to give any updates until they are 100% certain about what the future holds. And therefore very little information is provided – encouraging employees to “fill in the blanks” with rumor and speculation, which is often driven by fear. I appreciate this advice because there is so little certainty in many business environments and saying nothing often leads to imagining the worst possible case.

    • Great input Margaret. In the absence of receiving information from the leader, people will make up their own version of the truth.


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  7. You have to remember your mood goes to others.if you are happy people around you are usually happy so staying calm is the same thing.good things to know

  8. My current supervisor she is on top of things. She is positive and confident what she does and knows how to help me to understand what needs to done. With is COVID 19 it is good put these into practice in our lives.

  9. I like the emphasis on staying positive. I like the quote completion. In other words, heed the words of Corrie ten Boom, whose family helped many Jewish people escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II: “Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles, it empties today of its strengths, I’ve never heard this before but itresounds with me.

  10. A leader must reflect stability while maintaining safety standards

  11. positive attitude is contagious, yes, but sometimes or most of the time, management keep important information from their employee. So, yes often, there is a guessing game around the work place, which makes unhappy feeling for most employee.

  12. 5 stars I liked the quote “worrying does not empty tomorrow of it’s troubles, it empties today of it’s strengths”

  13. I have had good leader and had I like to know what I have to call back on . I like starting with a plan. Teamwork/non teamwork

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