How to lead in uncertain times?

With many countries planning on reopening the economy a wave of relief and hope starts to raise. At the same time, we have never faced such uncertain times as the ones ahead of us. An ocean of possibilities is being drafted, some catastrophic, some optimistic, but the difficult truth to face is – we don’t know what lies ahead. Leaders are now being called upon to make decisions and find solutions in a very unpredictable world.

Uncertainty comes with a high price for societies that always looked for simple answers. People get really stressed and insecure because, when we don’t know what is to come, we fear the worst. When our imaginations fill our minds with awful scenarios anxiety has already taken over.

Since we know we can not change reality, we can only reskill to adapt. We must find ways to change the mindset of trying to find the right single answers to learning new paths and possibilities.

But how can we do that, since we have been taught our whole life that that is one right answer, one right path?

Anxiety and Controlling Mindset

I have always been very anxious, my whole family is like that, and being afraid of what might come to pass is a terrible way of living. As a psychologist, I approached the problem in many ways: studying about the topic, during therapy, but it was when I found a meditation that I learned a different way of looking at this. I learned a method of facing problems and uncertainties in a more realistic, mature, and even lighter way that helps me make career and business decisions.

Going through so many attempts of dealing with anxiety made me understand that it is useless to try to think happy thoughts and sweep the troubles away. As a matter of fact, the troubles were actually being swept under a carpet and likely to explode in compulsive behavior or in very aggressive communication.

There is no way to be in control of our minds. Our thoughts run free, denying them will only make you focus even more on what you want to let go of. Understanding that was essential for me to use the technique I am going to show you here.

Don’t think of an apple! 

I am sure the first thing that popped into your mind was… an apple. That is the way our minds work. So, to deal with anxiety you have first to accept it. Take a look at your fear and the consequences you are afraid of. Let’s face it, it is a possibility, it might happen.

If that is human, it happens to everyone: leaders, executives, staff. Dealing with the #VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) world is tough. 

Not only the covid-19 pandemic is going to set a new normal, but the Fourth Industrial Revolution dictates a change, a transformation in the way we face problems, taking a broader perspective of life and work. And in times like this people look up to their leaders.

It is up to leaders to show the way, it has always been like that. But how can that be done, when leaders are also feeling lost? How to set a singular path in an ocean of uncertainty?

Many paths, Many possibilities and that is ok

The time for the right single answers is gone, so what to do? Changing environments demand new leadership skills in order to embrace ambiguity individually and to help explain associated risks and uncertainties to the workforce.

The first step to develop that skill is to let go of control. Let go of being valued by having all the answers. Accept that there is not a single solution and your job now is to facilitate the collective intelligence to face the problem through different points of view and design multiple scenarios and possibilities.

Now here comes the technique I told you I use when I am facing anxiety and uncertain times. I call it, multiple scenarios design. It is very simple. First, you visualize the worst scenario, the one you are most afraid of. It is good to start with that to get it out of the way. Then, you list the horrible consequences that might come out of that possibility. At last, for each consequence write down a way to minimize or neutralize its negative impact. That alone might be reassuring, for many times when you face the beast you find it not that ugly after all.

But that is not all. Once you got your worst fear out of the way, think of at least 4 new scenarios, 4 other possibilities that are also probable and do the same thing as before, listing the consequences, good and bad, and ways to minimize the bad ones and make use of the good ones.

That is great if done collectively, co-creating solutions with the team. As a leader, you must show the way, but that does not mean having all the answers. Embracing and explaining ambiguity can be a way to empower the workforce. At last, remember that #empathy is a key skill to make this work. Each professional in the business ecosystem, employees, consultants, freelancers, suppliers, and clients have their fears. 

Show them how to face the challenge by using multiple scenarios approach and reassure them that this is a new way of looking at things and building solutions. There are some very good tools like problem tree analysis, brainstorming, and alternative worlds, for instance. Have fun!

It is time to change and what is the best way of doing that than collectively? Let’s work together to make this a better world.

#4IR #reskilling #upskilling #HR #leadership