Strategy & personal development

Leading through uncertainty

Let me start by asking you: How are you feeling about the next few months? What words would you use to describe your expectations?

Coming out of the last couple of years with the pandemic, a war in Ukraine, inflation and the volatility of energy markets you could be forgiven for hoping for some reprieve from challenging market conditions. An emerging theme for all businesses is uncertainty. How do you lead and thrive in such circumstances?

In Afghanistan in the early 90’s the US Army came up with the VUCA acronym to describe the environment they were operating in:

VUCA stands for:

o   Volatile – The reality is we live in a turbulent world where situations are liable to change rapidly and unpredictably.

o   Uncertain – The feeling of uncertainty is more pronounced than ever before, where it is less likely that future events can be predicted.

o   Complex – Our world has become ever more multifaceted which has led to increased difficulty in understanding.

o   Ambiguous – Many of the issues we confront are capable of being understood in more than one way, and thus consensus is difficult to achieve and misunderstanding or conflict becomes more likely.

Whilst it was used to describe their theatre of operations in Afghanistan my interactions with small and medium-sized businesses lead me to believe that this acronym is descriptive of the environment in which you now operate.

What might your approach be to this VUCA world?

In recent weeks I have had the dubious pleasure of being on 7 different flights. When the stewards give you the safety demonstration around a failure of cabin pressure, they emphasise that you should put your oxygen mask on first and then see to those that need your help.

The same is true for you as you lead your businesses, in facing what you are facing now, whether it is finding solutions to challenges or in order to maximise your opportunities – working on yourself, investing in yourself is paramount. You will not be able to give your best contribution without investing in yourself.

How do you lift your head long enough to work on you and the business and what do you prioritise when you make that time?

Investing in yourself starts by knowing yourself which means you can then lead yourself and lead others more effectively. This enables you to begin to understand your preferences your “voice” if you like. To get the best out of those you work with, you will need to understand what it is like to be on the other side of you.

In a VUCA world agile or adaptive leadership will be needed to face the challenges and make the most of the opportunities.

The good news is you can learn how to be agile.

Key characteristics of agile leadership:

Build Trust – Employee engagement is key to better performance.

Communicate well – know what you are communicating, how you will communicate why you are communicating. Be clear because clarity enables your team to act with more certainty. If communicating in person bear in mind communication is 7% your words; 38% your tone of voice and 55% your body language.

Clear expectations – Are you clear on your expectations of others? Do those you work with know what you expect?

Remain curious – to keep growing. To invest in your own development to stay at the forefront of what is happening in the leadership space.

Be proactive – Move from reactive to proactive ask more questions and use principles to help guide you and your team through·     

Clear direction – but flexible if needed. Decide where you are going, make a plan, and be prepared to adapt the route to your destination as circumstances change.

Connect and collaborate – Build a team who work in an environment where it is safe to be creative, innovative, and to take risks. Where all are heard and can contribute.

Be authentic – it is ok to admit you find it challenging in facing the uncertainty and complexity. Doing this as you lead gives permission to your team to contribute their strengths to solving the problem with you.

Get a coach – you are probably thinking well he would say that. Truth is before I trained as a coach, I had one myself. It forced me to make time to get clear on the things I needed to be doing and be accountable for taking good action.

Working on yourself and learning how to be an agile leader will I believe set you up for greater success as you face an increasingly complex and uncertain marketplace.

“The way you view things is the way you do things.” John C. Maxwell

Originally posted 2022-09-27 12:52:54.

Mark Billage
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Mark Billage

Over the past 25 plus years, in different leadership roles, Mark has worked in different sectors, from financial services to charity and people development. He has set up businesses, served on Boards of Trustees, and led a medium-sized charity as their CEO. As the founder of Smart Culture Ltd, he is passionate about unlocking people potential. His aim in setting up the company is to provide quality training and coaching to leaders and their teams. Mark wants to help leaders to be more effective in their leadership. This transforms team culture, and relationships around them, so all can bring their best contribution in a safe environment.

Leading through uncertainty

by Mark Billage Time to read: 2 min