Stay positive and on track in uncertain times

Leaders have had a very difficult two years, trying to reassure and focus employees in the face of constant uncertainty, often struggling with their own stress and exhaustion as they tackle their employees’ growing mental health issues. How can they stay centered, delivering a clear and optimistic message to their teams while having to rotate frequently as conditions change? Here are three practical strategies for leaders to take care of themselves, all centered on understanding and managing one’s own mind: Beware of your ego; choose courage over comfort; and practice benevolent transparency.

Over the past two years, leaders have performed a high-flying act: seeking a stable footing while dealing with a disruptive and unpredictable pandemic, struggling to hire amid a 15-year-old talent shortage, and revamping policies to meet employee demands for more flexibility at work. Multiple waves of coronavirus variants and an outbreak of war in Europe have left leaders in a daunting position – trying to reassure and focus employees in the face of constant uncertainty while having no real idea what will happen next. afterwards. They are told to “accept uncertainty” as if it were a natural and easy thing to do. (It doesn’t.) And their own struggles with stress and burnout often take a back seat as they tackle the growing mental health issues of their employees.

So many leaders are now caught in the middle of wanting to deliver a clear and optimistic message to employees and yet have to backtrack and pivot quite frequently as conditions change. It is an exhausting proposition.

More than ever, leaders need practical strategies to take care of themselves and their teams. At Potential Project, we’ve coached thousands of leaders, and we’re starting in a somewhat unexpected place – helping them understand and manage their minds. Unfortunately, none of us can physically control our mind which neurologically has its own default patterns and modes, but we can train it to work with us and not against us.

Here are three things we recommend for leaders to lead in these uncertain times.

Beware of your ego.

Although most of us like to see ourselves as having the best interests of others in mind, the truth is that our ego is a powerful force, committed to our self-interest and self-preservation.

As we rise through the ranks of leadership, our ego can naturally become inflated. When this is the case, it puts us at a higher risk of bad decisions and missteps. An inflated ego narrows our vision and makes us seek out information that confirms what we want to believe. We lose perspective and end up in a leadership bubble where we only see and hear what we want rather than the full picture. And, in the face of setbacks and criticism, we find it harder to admit and learn from our mistakes.

Last summer we witnessed a good example of ego in action. Despite the appearance and then surge of the delta variant of Covid, James Gorman, CEO of Morgan Stanley, confidently asserted that his employees would be back in the office by September. He even threatened to cut salaries for those who didn’t follow the plan and return to office. When his vision failed to materialize, Gorman at least had the good sense to publicly admit he was wrong rather than redouble his efforts on a failed plan. “I was wrong on that,” he told CNBC in December. “I thought we would’ve been out of it and we’re not. Everyone’s still finding their way.

The ego can kill our ability to be agile in an unpredictable world. Keeping it in check gives leaders the freedom to err, make mistakes, admit they are human, and move on.

Choose courage over comfort.

As humans, we are wired to embrace certainty and security and to avoid danger and discomfort. In fact, sometimes we will go out of our way to convince ourselves that staying in our comfort zone is the best thing to do. This is where courage comes in. Courage is different from fearlessness. We may still be afraid to make a difficult decision or deliver negative news, but we find the inner strength to overcome the fear, step out of our comfort zones, and move forward.

Pamela Maynard, CEO of Avanade, a 45,000-strong global technology company, shared her experience of fear with us. In 2020, just six months after taking office as CEO, she had to face the realities of the global pandemic. Many organizations were downsizing to keep their business afloat. But early on, Pam pledged to protect jobs, even if it looked like a risk. “As the new CEO, it was difficult to make this decision because I wanted to come in as a leader, drive growth and achieve my goals,” she said. “But in this truly once-in-a-lifetime situation, my most important responsibility was to take care of our people. There was no other option and no higher priority.

Pam scrapped load requirements for consultants in the early months of the pandemic and lifted PTO limits as people had to walk away. As a leader, she saw an opportunity to show real courage to steer the ship through difficult times. She shared a principle that has guided her throughout her career: “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” In that moment, she faced her fear of negatively impacting business performance and disappointing her stakeholders and demonstrated Avanade’s values ​​in action.

Choosing courage over comfort puts us in a vulnerable position, as we will likely take the heat and make mistakes as we venture into uncertain territory. But this vulnerability opens the doors for others to be vulnerable as well. If we face our fears and are sometimes wrong, we allow people to see our humanity and invite them to share theirs too.

Practice benevolent transparency.

McKinsey reported that more than three-quarters of C-suite executives they surveyed expect the typical employee to be back in the office at some point for three or more days a week. Meanwhile, nearly three-quarters of the 5,000 employees surveyed said they would like to work from home two or more days a week. It’s understandable that leaders view a return to the office as a positive thing. For some, it signals the end of chaos, a return to the known and manageable. For others, it may seem like the best solution to the real experience of disconnection and fatigue with which remote work has overwhelmed us all.

But disconnecting from expectations and publicly communicating plans that go against employee sentiment is a dangerous brew that can erode trust. The answer is not that leaders avoid strategies and plans that are unpopular but necessary; it is often the hard work of leadership. But the caring and compassionate approach should be as transparent as possible.

Benevolent transparency means that ideas and thoughts are exposed in the open – to make visible what can often be invisible, below the surface. It means being open and honest about what’s on our minds and in our hearts. We do not withhold important information for fear of how it will be received or how we will be perceived. By doing this, we remove the power that comes with proprietary knowledge and level the playing field. As a result, people know where they are and what awaits them and can chart their course in life better. Transparency is distinct from candor in that you can be upfront while withholding information. When you’re transparent, people know what you’re thinking. And when you add benevolence to transparency, people also know what’s in your heart.

Benevolent transparency helps put leaders on the same page as their employees, which in turn drives positive results. In Potential Project’s research, we looked at outcomes when leaders and their followers see the leader as a leader with compassion (with courage, presence, and transparency). Job satisfaction improves by 11%, organizational commitment increases by 10% and burnout decreases by 10%.

Leading others is difficult in normal times, but in these unprecedented times of constant change and uncertainty, it is especially difficult. The need to figure out the best course of action amid imperfect information and making unpopular decisions can feel like being trapped in a black bubble. Our advice to leaders is to let the bright light of your own humanity burst into the bubble and reconnect with those around you. Admit your mistakes when you’re wrong, choose courage even when it makes you vulnerable, and share what’s on your mind and in your heart. It can be scary at first, but it’s the best thing you can do for your teams and for yourself.

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