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