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