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Uncertainty, is it the New Normal?

Uncertainty, taking that first step....Cartoon by Nina Paley,

Leading ourselves through uncertainty

A recent conversation with former French President François Hollande focusing on the uncertainty emerging from several global events had a group of organizational leaders reflecting on what we, ourselves, can do. Many questions came to the fore: Is uncertainty the new normal? Do we simply have “normal” and “abnormal” individuals in positions of influence and leadership, particularly visible in turbulent times? What can we, as leaders, do to help organizations manoeuvre through these periods?

Setting aside all political affiliations and leanings will allow us to focus on the topic of uncertainty and our response to it. The discussion was a fascinating journey into human behaviour. It created an opportunity to reflect on the responsibilities we have, as individuals, to breathe a little more before acting.

So, what actions could we concretely take during moments of uncertainty to see us through them, and support others to do the same?

Normal or Abnormal Behaviours?

The question around behaviour during periods of uncertainty raises some very interesting points around rationality of thought and action. Meaning that consequences are considered, and decisions are taken with care and consideration of possible outcomes. To respect the Chatham House Rule of the event, I will focus on the “so what” insights and not the specific individuals cited by former President François Hollande. 

He effectively described the two types of behavioural approaches in global leaders – “normal” and “abnormal”. Normal responses are defined as taking time to reflect on policy positions, actions or possible outcomes and being confident enough to change views when the path originally conceived is harmful in some way that wasn’t initially foreseen. In other words, the normality of changing one’s mind. The “abnormal” approach is one where an individual takes a decision and doubles down to stay the course no matter how clear it becomes that the original course is not fit for purpose or does harm in ways that are unacceptable or disproportionate. In other words, a stubbornness that often leads to the ultimate downfall of the person. Although the conversation centred about global political leaders, these issues apply across the board.

How does this translate during periods of uncertainty?

Best leadership practices during periods of uncertainty

Perhaps the best foundational skill is genuine self-awareness. Understanding our decision-making tendencies and moderating them by surrounding ourselves with individuals willing and able to challenge our thinking, ideas, and approach. Of course, listening and moderating our actions based on that counsel is vital. In business, this means building a team of talented individuals willing to share differing perspectives that move individuals and ultimately the team towards better decision-making. One person’s perspective is biased, add another’s with different experiences, skills and thinking and biases tend to neutralize allowing better decisions to emerge.

Uncertainty often leads to anxiety within a team, something that can quickly affect team morale and performance. In this, prevention is best. It is achieved through communication. Powerful and prolific communication (aka effective communication) requires effort to be precise and succinct about the issues or problems that need resolution or the work outcomes to achieve. As in all human-based skills, communication requires a time investment each day. A few minutes is often enough to prepare your message(s). Messaging should be practical, relatable, and clear. Combining a big picture view with clear messaging is the foundational recipe for becoming a powerful and prolific communicator, with one inevitable outcome – your success!

Leading by example makes a difference

True leadership requires many skills; however, it begins with self-awareness and communication. A failure to listen to others not only erodes team momentum but also morale, particularly during periods of uncertainty. The spiral from there is one we’ve seen in public, and sometimes cringeworthy, ways. Naturally evoking the lesson we learn at some point: “there are none so deaf as those that do not want to hear!”. By knowing our own strengths and weaknesses, we can moderate our default behaviour(s) not fit for purpose in the moment. This is the “normal” approach that President François Hollande was alluding to. It is down to us to decide. Do we want to be part of the solution or part of the problem?

Your turn

Sign in to the Community Member Area or comment below to share your insights with others relating to how you manage through moments of uncertainty yourself, or by supporting others through it.

Give it a try!

Cartoon credit: Nina Paley,

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