Leading through uncertainty

When a leader goes above and beyond to unite their people, they can achieve the extraordinary.

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When I tune in to the morning business news, all I hear are cutbacks.

The current volatility of our economy is evoking a profound sense of unease across the business landscape. In the past five days alone, prominent companies such as Sky, Meta, Rolls Royce, JP Morgan, and Vodafone, among others, have made headlines by announcing significant reductions in their workforce.

We find ourselves navigating an environment where uncertainty is pervasive. Inflation has reached alarming heights, conflict ravages Europe, and interest rates are scaling levels not witnessed in nearly 15 years. In addition, we are still grappling with the aftermath of the pandemic. The transition from remote to hybrid work is ongoing, and the advent of AI promises to revolutionize the working world completely.

In tough times, what measures can leaders take to support their employees?

This week, a conversation I had with friends in late 2021 resurfaced. As lockdown restrictions eased and we were once again permitted to gather with our loved ones, I shared a meal with a couple who have been dear friends of mine for several years.

At their respective workplaces, they told me of stark disparities in the handling of uncertainty. In the first case, the leadership failed to address the turbulence and its potential impact on the workforce. While my friend did her utmost to provide support to her team, she received minimal assistance from the communication team at the German head office. Who instead insisted on continuing to send out the standard perfunctory business briefings, with no mention of how things had changed or any empathy for the difficult circumstances.

Conversely, my other friend experienced a vastly different scenario. In his business, the CEO personally reached out to employees on a weekly basis, providing them with as much information as possible regarding the business’s response to the pandemic and being honest with them, whilst assuring them that layoffs would be considered only as a last resort.

The outcome? The former company witnessed a wave of disillusionment among its workforce, resulting in numerous individuals seeking alternative employment opportunities. Meanwhile, the latter company experienced a surge in performance, as employees felt invigorated and remained dedicated in their commitment to overcoming obstacles.

The distinction between these two situations boiled down to a single factor: a weekly email from the CEO. A concise, reassuring message that made the employees feel valued and cared for.

So, how can leaders prevent their teams from seeking greater clarity elsewhere amidst such an uncertain climate?

Open communication lies at the heart of fostering a culture of certainty and stability. When it comes to helping individuals find confidence and fulfilment in their work, effective honest communication and emotional engagement supersede all other factors. By emotional engagement, I mean going the extra mile for your team, demonstrating a heightened level of compassion during challenging times, and sharing your feelings and concerns.

This paves the way for trust to flourish within the environment. Colleagues feel reassured when their leaders have the courage to share vital information. Building trust is not an easy feat; it requires courage, not just time.

Rather than waiting for other businesses to demonstrate how to handle communication during times of uncertainty, take the lead. It doesn’t have to be an arduous task. A simple 10-minute email to your team, sharing what you know, how you feel and outlining the plan, can make all the difference.

When a leader goes above and beyond to unite their people, they can achieve the extraordinary.


Thought for the week:

Inclusion is a lot like jazz – you can do it your way.


Tips for being an A player:

  • Inclusion is not just the right thing to do – it’s the smart thing to do.
  • If you want to be the best team, then you have to be inclusive – period.
  • Exclusive language divides, inclusive language heals.
  • Leadership no longer works without inclusion.
  • Inclusion powers performance.

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