3 Skills to Lead in Uncertain Times and for the Future.
What do the best leaders of the past have in common? We analyze some of their traits and pare it down to the essential 3 leadership skills you need to navigate through rough times.
We are living in an era of uncertainty. 2020 gave the world a global pandemic. The effects of which we're still reeling from. And who knows what’s around the corner.
Natural disasters. Global warming. The rise of AI and automation taking over. The future can be scary. And this is especially true for small and medium sized businesses who will ultimately feel the repercussions more than mega corporations.
That’s why in times of uncertainty, it’s important to have competent leaders on whom companies can rely on to manage their teams. However, if you are in this role, and you feel like you are standing on the edge of a dark abyss, you’re not alone.
In order to help you out, this article will provide look at the best leaders of the past. Analyze what made them so great and give a few tips on how to apply that to today's problems.
And even if you're not the one leading, but are in charge of finding someone who is a good fit for your company, then this list can also guide you by highlighting what some key leadership skills for management in times of crisis and change looks like.
Through this list of 3 of the most important leadership qualities, you’ll be better equipped to manage your team and successfully lead them to face whatever may come.
But let’s first call attention to why these skills are important in our current times and in the near future, by demonstrating some common problems your company will inevitably face.
What happens when leaders are uncertain?
When your company is staring down the barrel of uncertainty, problems can start adding up. Even more than usual. Some of these may include:
- Unreliable projections
For companies that do their projections annually, there may be a big discrepancy between what you thought your numbers would be last year and what they are now. If a crisis hits or a disaster occurs this can mess up your stock, your team capacity, and your project schedule. Leaving you scrambling to make up the difference between what you planned and what you can achieve.
- Unclear timelines
When you’re working in the face of an uncertain future, you’ll never know what fresh hell tomorrow will bring. Your beautifully scheduled plans likely won’t be completed in the original timeframe you envisioned. Projects need to be pushed back, pipeline projects may get cancelled, and all the dependencies need to be updated.
- Lack of available resources
Resources are the people, machines, and spaces you need to get your job done. So maybe you’re dealing with being short staffed, an irregular and unreliable amount of equipment, or even the threat of looming layoffs. As such, you’ll probably notice a drop in the available resources your company has on hand. Meaning resources may be overutilized, people will be forced to multitask, and your team will need to make due with less. And without the means to do their jobs, your company might not be able to hit certain goals or meet investors’ quotas.
- Stressful working environment
Stress is a killer. When anxiety is high, it can permeate the entire workplace - from the CEOs to your field workers. Your team, who normally look to their bosses for support and guidance, may not be greeted with the same level of assurance. This can lead to overall decreases in productivity, burnout, and an unhealthy working environment.
- Communication issues
In times of a crisis, communication often breaks down. The normal lines may be disrupted and your team won’t know who to turn to. Company-wide layoffs, changes in roles, and inconsistent working hours may all play a part in this. And when your team doesn’t know who’s in charge or who to talk to, then they also won’t know what their jobs are. Meaning that work will stall and little will get completed.
Because of these problems, companies who face these situations need a competent leader to manage in times of uncertainty. One who’s able to see the bigger picture and decide the best course of action for your team. A person who answers the concerns of the team. And even if they can’t, are able to make well-informed decisions in the meantime. And one with the ability to guide your team through the difficulties and into the light.
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How to lead in uncertain times and for the future
While it’s important to note that being an effective leader is not simply the sum of all your parts, it can be helpful to understand what skills you possess and what you can improve on. And although there are hundreds of skills that can help make someone a better leader, we'll hit on the best ones for managing in times of crisis and uncertainty.
Here is a list of the top 3 leadership skills which can help better manage in times of uncertainty and for a shaky future.
1. Be Visible - be there for your team.
2. Be Flexible - be open to new ideas and learn to roll with the punches
3. Be Decisive - be a decision maker and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
We’ll dive a bit deeper as to what these all mean.
Did you know that Sir Winston Churchill was incredibly accident prone? Not only did he crash a plane when learning to fly, but when crossing New York’s 5th avenue, he was hit by a car. These incidents were coupled with falling off a horse several times, nearly drowning in a Swiss lake, and dislocating his shoulder as he was disembarking from a ship.
Why is it that history fails to remember these facts? Because Winston Churchill was a damned good leader in one of history’s most turbulent recent events. And that’s what we remember him for.
Part of why Churchill was so well respected was because of his visibility and communication during WWII. Often seen visiting bombed-out houses and speaking with victims, he was there for the people of the UK when they most needed him. Churchill is a great example of how to be a leader in times of uncertainty.
Applying this to the modern workplace, being visible can show your team that you care. You aren’t just there to do your job, you’re there for them as well. In whatever capacity they need. This can help with workplace motivation, ease insecurities, and ensure productivity even in times of crisis.
How to improve this leadership skill:
In your role, take a cue from history. Be there for your team. Don’t hide in your office, check in on them regularly. Schedule a recurring one-to-one or team meeting and let them ask questions.
A leader is not the only one feeling anxiety of uncertainty. Your team will most likely be feeling nervous as well, and it’s good to give them an outlet for them to express these concerns and where you can quell them.
Another way to be visible is to communicate your availability. Share with your team when you’ll be in the office and when you are available to talk. Metaphorically leaving your office door open will show them that you can be reached and you will be there for them.
Read on: If your company is still remote or is transitioning back to the office, you might want to check out our list of the best remote and hybrid work tools to keep communication strong.
When facing big changes, it makes sense to have a leader who can help prepare for change. Someone who is open to new ideas and innovation and is willing to make them a reality. This means not only can they change to fit the current situation, but they can also think ahead to the future and anticipate what could possibly happen.
For this, you need a leadership chameleon.
This highly adaptive animal demonstrates how you can thrive by taking into consideration the world around you. By sensing changes to the current situation, you can figure out if you’re on the right track or if you need to stop and change course. Listen to the world around you, whether that’s your team, stakeholders, or clients. And be open to new ideas, suggestions, and criticisms to ensure you’re on the right path.
Being a leadership chameleon also means you are flexible. So when changes happen (and they will!) you can maintain stability. Either by foreseeing potential problems and planning for them. Or realizing that you can’t control everything and learning to roll with the punches.
It's good to keep in mind the words of Machiavelli, “Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.”
How to improve this leadership skill:
Plan for change! When plotting your future course, it’s important to always leave room for error. Give new tasks a cushion of time before they start, just in case the old tasks go over their allotted time.
Buffer your bottlenecks, or if using a Gantt chart, schedule some lag time between your dependent tasks. Anticipating change can prevent small snafus and delays from becoming critical problems.
Plus, if you don’t need to spend time worrying about potential hiccups, you can concentrate on more important things.
Equipping your team with flexible tools can also help. There’s a reason why agile project management is so big these days. Planning, scheduling, and carrying out projects is iterative and may need to be reevaluated along the way.
Interactive whiteboards, Kanban boards, or project management software can all aid in this. Modern versions of these tools can enhance your team’s collaborative abilities, allow for quick and effortless task and project rescheduling, and increase workflow transparency. This makes it easier for your team to stay on top of their work, even in times of chaos.
It’s also important to not fear change. Innovation and the next big idea don’t happen when you decide to play it safe. So you might not be surprised to learn how some of the best solutions were born out of necessity. In your work life, be open to new ideas, listen to your team, and allow feedback. Or take inspiration from other great leaders and see how they approach uncertainty.
Future uncertainty can creep into your actions. Fear of making the wrong decision can lead people to not make any decisions at all. Which can oftentimes, be worse. In the words of Marcus Tullius Cicero, “More is lost by indecision than wrong decision. Indecision is the thief of opportunity.”
Being a leader requires courage. Courage to fail. And being brave enough to make decisions knowing that if you are wrong, you can live with your mistakes.
In times of hardship, your team will be looking for stability and direction. So be that for them. Don’t let fear and analysis paralysis hold you back.
How to improve this leadership skill:
Acting decisively can be easier said than done. So make sure you are well-equipped and don’t go in it alone. Before opting for a solution, gather your team. Collaborate with them and ask for their feedback, input, expectations, and capabilities.
Doing so will ensure that you have the capacity and resources needed to move forward, not only in the short term, but in the long term as well. Map out different scenarios and create alternative plans depending on what you find out.
If your company has put together a strategy plan, times of uncertainty and crisis can be a good opportunity to reevaluate these plans and assess your progress. Or maybe engage in building a team strategy and create different options for future paths.
Collaborating with your team can also help you carry out research and gather the right information. Collecting as much data as you can, will allow you to make more informed decisions. Use past reports or bring in outside experts to get a different perspective.
Being decisive does not mean you have to be rash. These techniques may take time and can even delay the deployment of your solutions. So take caution to not use them as a stalling tactic or as an excuse to hold out for the perfect answer, which may never actually come.
Embrace the future, don’t fear it
It’s easy to get caught up in not knowing what the future can bring. But when your company is going through times of crisis and heading into uncertainty it helps to have a well-equipped guide. A leader who possesses these 3 essential skills can be the key to weathering the storm.
But just as Napoleon had Marengo, or as Theodore Roosevelt had a big stick, leadership requires tools. Something that can help plan out tasks and projects with speed and ease, while still allowing for changes. Which can be shared with your entire team to enhance transparency and collaboration. And which can be used to plan both short term challenges and long term goals.
If you’re interested in a tool that can help manage in uncertain times, try Ganttic. See how resource scheduling software can bring out the best in your entire team.