Clear communication key when leading amidst uncertainty

When guiding a team, be sure to stick to your core values, stay positive, and listen to the concerns of your staff

Economic strife, nationwide turmoil, and ongoing fear of the pandemic have threatened businesses on many levels. For those who manage a team, it can be particularly challenging to lead during this time, even if one has years of experience. While no one is immune to feelings of apprehension, there are ways to guide others through the tough times while also minimizing crippling fear.

Keep employees informed

Knowing what to expect helps us feel okay, and it’s human nature to look for the facts during a crisis. As such, when a company exhibits poor communication, it is common for employees to feel isolated and anxious.

As a leader, do your best to keep your team up to date; tell them what you know and your plan for navigating through the crisis. While you might not always deliver good news, demonstrating honesty and transparency builds trust, earns leadership credibility, and creates a sense of camaraderie within a practice. Employees need to stay positive, but also understand realities. A true leader “keeps it real” while motivating their team to power through. Help your employees make sense of the ever-changing conditions presented.

Be a guide

The best leaders are the ones out in front, guiding their teams through the turmoil. Stay focused and positive. Maintaining strong morale is paramount. After all, this helped explorer Ernest Shackleton guide his 27-man Antarctic crew through insurmountable obstacles in one of the most unforgiving environments in the world. While he may not have been the first to reach the South Pole, his entire crew survived after losing their ship in the ice. Thankfully, business obstacles are not so dangerous, but there is a lot to learn from Shackleton’s story.

As a guide, avoid hasty decisions and shortcuts. Lead your team using carefully crafted short-term decisions to get through temporary rough patches. A good first step is giving your employees clear, actionable priorities to rally around. Second, listen to their fears and provide them with a platform for making suggestions. While you are guiding them, you’re also walking beside them—be sure to emphasize this.

Don’t become paralyzed

It takes courage to be a good leader, and it’s important to keep moving ahead. Standing still allows challenges to grow and gives your competition the chance to pull ahead. Be ready to act and to make decisions even if you don’t have all the answers. Move forward with the information you have and the data you can gather. Trust your expertise and the knowledge of those around you.

Stay united

Strong leaders help employees feel safe and secure within their professional community. As such, having core values and a vision for your practice can help rally your team and create a sense of unity. Empowering employees by supporting them instills a sense of pride, and they will stand ready to fight on behalf of the organization. Help your team come together in ways that make sense with your business environment and day-to-day operations.

Assess and understand

All of your team members—from technicians to assistants to office staff—are different, and their inherent needs and motivators should be evaluated individually. Some may thrive in a strong social setting and prefer face-to-face communication, while others might prefer community, but not necessarily engaging in a public setting. The latter might feel connected to the team through goals, feedback, and news from other departments.

Using personality assessment data can help you more easily identify who needs what. Additionally, the results can be shared throughout the organization as a way for people to understand each other better and feel more connected.

Live with ambiguity

It is not easy for anyone to live in a world filled with uncertainties. However, while no one wants to go through life blindfolded, we sometimes have to deal with ambiguity. Life has unexpected detours; no matter how much you plan, even with contingencies, usually something throws us off course. After all, this time last year, how many of us were anticipating a global pandemic?

Strong leaders learn to deal with the unexpected. They examine the information they have in the moment and move forward. Some personality types find this easier than others, but understanding your personal leadership style can help you work in ambiguity in a way that is as comfortable as possible.

Long-term versus short-term

A strong leader never loses sight of long-term goals while managing the immediate needs of a crisis. That said, in uncertain times, leaders often have to make tough decisions in the short-term (e.g. budget cuts, layoffs, furloughs) to keep the business moving forward. It is undoubtedly uncomfortable to consider the impact and consequence of those choices as they relate to employees and the sustainability of the business. Indeed, it’s a lot of weight to bear.

Maintain a clear view of what needs to happen to get through a crisis while preserving the long-term strategic visions for the practice.

Listen

When it comes to communication, listening is as important as informing. Be sure to provide an open ear and offer employees a safe place to express their concerns and emotions. Reach out to them so they can tell you what’s on their minds. Some employees will be comfortable addressing issues in an open forum, while others will not. Be sure to provide opportunities for them to use whichever channel they prefer.

Moving forward

Leading through uncertain times is akin to diagnosing a pet (only without all the proper diagnostic testing). Help your practice, your team, and yourself by sticking to your core values, staying positive, and understanding your staff.

Wendy Sheaffer is chief product officer at the Omnia Group, an employment assessment firm, where she works with clients and staff to provide an understanding of how to use personality data to meet business goals. Sheaffer can be reached at WSheaffer@omniagroup.com or via OmniaGroup.com.

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