Leading Through Uncertainty (Part VIII – Resilience) – Weekend Reflections for Leaders: May 18, 2019

Today’s topic (Part VIII of Leading Through Uncertainty) is on the importance of Resilience.

It would not be a stretch to say that NOTHING goes according to plan.

  • The customer experience is not always exceptional
  • The product does not always deliver as advertised…sometimes it does not even show up (and blaming the delivery service does not help)
  • Competition arrives overnight from a company that was not even on the grid yesterday
  • Unexpected expenses show up at the least desirable time
  • Leaders on the team will sometimes act inconsistent with company principles
  • Mid-month, mid-quarter resource trade-offs are often difficult, painful, and need to be made quickly
  • Investors are not always encouraging and supportive of the direction of the company

Ok, enough said. When the plan starts to unravel, uncertainty can show up quickly in the hearts and minds of the team.

A critical attribute of leaders during times of uncertainty is resilience. The behaviors of leaders during times of uncertainty must go beyond the simplicity of some wall chart with the word Resilience over the top of an image of a mountain climber. There are specific behaviors that upon retrospection, would be summarized in the term resilience.  

Leaders need to deliver on two important behaviors to set an example of resilience that is worthy to follow and provides the real-world direction to lead the team to overcome times of uncertainty:

  1. Commitment to Purpose. The purpose is greater than our pain. Commitment to the purpose of the business (what we do and why does it matter) pulls leaders and teams through the difficult and uncertain time. Reinforcing, through words and actions, a strong commitment to the purpose of the business becomes the rallying cry to strengthen the team’s resolve to continue. (for more on the importance of purpose for the business please refer to Part II)
  2. Discipline to Execute the Small Tasks. Leaders must climb back into the ring and do the small daily tasks to gain some steady footing after getting what feels like the wind knock out of you from an uncertain event. Displaying the discipline and courage by doing the simple tasks like picking up the phone to call investors and customers, and walking the halls to talk with the team, when you know the conversation will be difficult, is a clear behavior that is needed. When events pull the company off the rails, displaying the courage to continue to execute on the needed, routine daily tasks of the business will set the example and build the energy necessary to dissipate anxiety during uncertain times. It will be the daily execution of the small tasks that will prepare the team to deliver on the potential shift in strategy that will return the company to a brighter future.

Just a quick side note: The behaviors to build resilience are no different on the home front for families facing a crisis. The purpose to stay together to build a strong foundation and support future generations is the enabler to overcome difficult events. The completion of small, daily tasks like cleaning the kitchen, paying bills, doing the laundry, and cutting the grass helps to control anxiety and reinforce commitments during times of an uncertain future for the family. (for more information – Pathway)

Today’s senior executives and top talent are the catalysts to help the company succeed in the long term. The behaviors they model will make or break the future of the company. Leading through uncertainty is not easy and it takes a toll on the physical and emotion health of leaders. The two behaviors outlined above will help solidify the personal resolve of leaders to remain in the fight and achieve their goals.

What if I were to ask you, “What is the most difficult leadership challenge you are facing today?” What would you say? 

Here are a few resources to HELP YOU:

  1. Download FREE resources, including the 4 A’s of Leadership, at www.harvesttimepartners.com
  2. Contact me. Email: david@harvesttimepartners.com (M) 269-370-9275
  3. Check out my latest book, Looking Back-What I Learned When I Left a Great Company, for helpful insights on leadership, building a great business, and winning the war on top talent.

Below are previous topics in the series Leading Through Uncertainty. I had the privilege in March to speak to a group of executives in San Francisco on this topic and I wanted to share components of my talk during this series.

Part I (Reality Check) Part II (Purpose) Part III (Guiding Principles) Part IV (Operating System) Part V (Points of View) Part VI (Stakeholders) Part VII (Communication)

David Esposito

Leading Through Uncertainty (Part VII – Communication) – Weekend Reflections for Leaders: May 11, 2019

Today’s topic (Part VII) is on the importance of Communication in order to effectively lead through uncertainty.

During times of uncertainty, silence and the inaccessibility of leaders amplifies anxiety and worry inside the team. When people don’t see their leaders and don’t hear the reality of the situation directly from leaders, there is a vacuum created that is filled with thoughts of the worst, not the best of potential outcomes.

Today’s marketplace continues to become more challenging and uncertain. History, and our own personal experience, would tell us that we all have some initial bent toward the negative during difficult times. Psychology researchers would say it is some evolutionary survival instinct that kicks in to prepare us for what may be lurking in the dark.

However, practical lessons contained in Leadership 101 would remind us that leaders who confront the reality of the situation directly with their teams, display the humility to work together to find solutions, and set the personal example of continuing to climb into the ring each day with the grit to overcome will more times than not, rally the team to achieve the desired outcome.

Here are a few important elements of effective leadership communication during times of uncertainty.

  • Full time job: Leaders need to use every opportunity to communicate with the team. One on one meetings, staff meetings, employee briefings, hallways conversations, holiday messages, and start/end of week communications need to reinforce the situation, the plan, and the optimism of achieving the objectives. During these ongoing communications, there is consistency in message, tone, and body language that builds confidence and decreases concern.
  • Get out of the office: We can accomplish a great deal efficiently over written communications, video announcements, etc. However, during times of uncertainty, leaders need to over-compensate towards face to face communications, get out of the office, travel to meet people and take advantage of every hallway interaction to be visible, approachable, and encouraging that the objectives will be achieved.
  • Small indications of progress: Nothing builds momentum and confidence like highlighting small steps of progress towards the goals outlined by leaders. Seeing and hearing about milestones being accomplished as stepping stones towards the larger objective is tremendously energizing for teams. In addition, highlighting the behaviors being demonstrated by the team that are consistent with the principles guiding the company can also provide an added boost of energy and confidence to a weary team fighting to overcome.
  • The personal toll on leaders: Effective communication during times of uncertainty places a heavy burden on leaders. The emotional strength to display confidence and courage when the business may genuinely becoming unraveled is no small task. In addition, what usually follows closely behind stress in the workplace is stress on the home front. The transfer of stress from work to home may build slower but can come on suddenly to add to the emotional toll on a leader. The “Hey, do you have 5 minutes at the end of the day to talk” request soon becomes 60 minutes which results in a late arrival home for dinner or a child’s event. This pattern over time is reminiscent of the quote from Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. When the main character was asked, “How did you go bankrupt?” Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.” Leading through uncertainty is not for the weak or faint-hearted.

Many strategic initiatives like entering a new market, an acquisition, a corporate culture transformation, etc. often fail because of an insufficient communication plan and/or the lack of discipline to do the unglamorous work of daily executing on the plan. During times of uncertainty, leadership communication is a fully integrated part of the plan, not just an after-thought.

Today’s senior executives and top talent need to maintain a strong focus on improving their communication effectiveness. Making major strategic decisions is often the easy part. Ensuring those decisions are effectively communicated with clarity, consistency, and progress updates to ensure successful execution is quite often where leaders fall short.

What if I were to ask you, “What is the most difficult leadership challenge you are facing today?” What would you say? 

Here are a few resources to HELP YOU:

  1. Download FREE resources, including the 4 A’s of Leadership, at www.harvesttimepartners.com
  2. Contact me. Email: david@harvesttimepartners.com (M) 269-370-9275
  3. Check out my latest book, Looking Back-What I Learned When I Left a Great Company, for helpful insights on leadership, building a great business, and winning the war on top talent.

Below are previous topics in the series Leading Through Uncertainty. I had the privilege in March to speak to a group of executives in San Francisco on this topic and I wanted to share components of my talk during this series.

Part I (Reality Check) Part II (Purpose) Part III (Guiding Principles) Part IV (Operating System) Part V (Points of View) Part VI (Stakeholders

David Esposito

Leading Through Uncertainty (Part VI – Stakeholder Paradox) – Weekend Reflections for Leaders: May 4, 2019

The next few Weekend Reflections for Leaders are focused on the topic of Leading Through Uncertainty. I had the privilege in March to speak to a group of executives in San Francisco on the topic of Leading Through Uncertainty. There was a tremendous amount of interest in the topic, and I wanted to share components of my talk over the next several Weekend Reflections for Leaders.

Part I (Reality Check) Part II (Purpose) Part III (Guiding Principles) Part IV (Operating System) Part V (Points of View)

Today’s topic is on the importance of addressing the Stakeholder Paradox as we effectively lead through uncertainty.

We have several groups of stakeholders that we work with in building a business. Team members, investors, operational partners, and customers to name just a few. These different stakeholders have a variety of perspectives on the business, but they have two strikingly similar emotional frameworks that need to be addressed:

  1. Stakeholders want consistent steady growth, long term plans that last, minimal change, no major disruption on the current workflow, etc. Steady and consistent.  
  2. Stakeholders have begrudgingly come to appreciate the reality of today’s marketplace that demands a bit of paranoia about surviving long term. There is a clear need for steady experimentation on new areas for efficiency, new software platforms, aggressive product upgrades to meet rapidly growing demands from customers, address competitive threats quicker than ever before, etc. in order to survive in the market today. Risk taking and change.  

We want a steady growth curve for the business, but we know if we are not aggressively experimenting and taking risks, we will eventually be “Napstered, Ubered or Amazoned” like so many other businesses have become over the last few decades.

Addressing this stakeholder paradox (I want steady and consistent, but I know I need risk taking and change) is critical for leaders to effectively lead through uncertainty. Below are a few concepts that have been proven effective in helping leaders address the stakeholder paradox:

  • No plan survives completely unscathed. Anyone who has finalized an annual operating plan knows that it is just the base case for getting the year rolling. As events occur that demand changes in the plan, leaders need to take the opportunity to clearly explain the intent behind the change, reinforce the adaptability skill-set of the team to handle the change, and affirm the team’s ability to successfully bring about the change. Leaders who take full advantage of leveraging these minor changes will help demonstrate consistency with the core plan while balancing a degree of change and course corrections throughout the year.
  • Measured risk taking and experimentation. Leaders can demonstrate the forward-thinking of the organization by investing in some areas of risk and experimentation while keeping the steady pace of the core business moving forward. Modest investments in risk and change over time will help minimize the need for massive disruption and change when forced to do it because of a consistent leadership failure to innovate and anticipate change. Leaders should effectively communicate these investments to demonstrate the ability of the team to deliver on core elements of the business while making modest investments over time to stay one step ahead of major changes in the marketplace.
  • Knowing when to pivot on the core business. One of the most difficult decision points for leaders is in the desire to demonstrate the persistence to stay focused on the current strategy, don’t quit, work harder to drive towards the objective vs. demonstrating the adaptability to listen to the market, realize the current strategy is not optimal, and pivot in a major way in the near term to ensure the company succeeds in the long term. In many cases, leadership teams who are making minor course corrections over time and experimenting in new areas will help to prevent the need for these major pivots on the business, but the reality is, most of us delay minor changes and only bite the bullet of change when forced to do so and we have no other option. History would say that many of these major pivots in overall strategy are not successful, but leaders who can effectively describe the intent for change, quickly position the right players in key roles, and execute with a sense of urgency can best position the company for the future.

As senior executives and the top talent on their teams look to lead through times of uncertainty, there is a critical need to effectively address the stakeholder paradox around the emotional desire for steady and consistent, and the clear need for change and risk taking.

What if I were to ask you, “What is the most difficult leadership challenge you are facing today?” What would you say? 

Here are a few resources to HELP YOU:

  1. Download FREE resources, including the 4 A’s of Leadership, at www.harvesttimepartners.com
  2. Contact me. Email: david@harvesttimepartners.com (M) 269-370-9275
  3. Check out my latest book, Looking Back-What I Learned When I Left a Great Company, for helpful insights on leadership, building a great business, and winning the war on top talent.

David Esposito