Consultant's Reflections - Finding a Path Through Uncertainty

In my first ndc ‘consultant’s reflection’ post, I want to talk about something I see quite often. The opportunity, in times of change, to deal with uncertainty in a way that allows unnecessary harm, or in away that draws people closer together and builds bridges of trust.

As a leader you can’t be 100% transparent with your teams & employees all the time. For legal, ethical, regulatory,or other reasons, it’s just impossible.

At the same time, when your people are in a place of uncertainty for sustained periods, it takes a toll. They suffer energetically, mentally, emotionally and relationally. Your organisation suffers too.

What also happens, which you will recognise, is that in the absence of clarity, people make their own meaning. They may join dots that aren’t there to be joined. The ‘Rumour Mill’ fires up. Narratives begin to flow that make things murkier than they were before.

The outcome, usually, is fear, stress, loss of performance and good people leaving for a place of greater security.

The first thing I want to say is that while the answers to some of your employee’s concerns may be beyond what you can give, you can probably ease more of their worries than you might think. If you find a way to ask what’s on their minds, to listen & to respond, you may be surprised by how much you can help them. You will almost certainly be able to kill off some damaging rumours.

But what happens when no further clarity can be provided? When top management don’t even know what’s coming, or simply can’t be fully transparent? Don’t underestimate the power of simply acknowledging their reality:

“Yes - we are in uncertain times. Things are not clear. We hear & understand how difficult, unsettling & painful this is. We are asking you to bear it just a little longer. Soon we will beable to offer more clarity.”

And acknowledge the impact on you as a leader and leadership team, to whatever extent is appropriate. You’re human too – humans want to be led by other humans!

You’re then in a much better place to talk about what you each need to focus on, to navigate your way through the uncertainty together.

Your people don’t need to know everything. Often, they just need their experience to be heard & acknowledged - some sort of road forward to be shown. It won’t solve everything, but it will go further than platitudes (well-meaning or otherwise). Certainly further than a vacuum of incommunication – perhaps the worst choice.

I encourage leaders to have these conversations in the right way and at the right time. Not to hide from uncertainty, difficult as it may be. And to make it a real conversation, a dialogue. This takes courage, but that’s what’s being asked of your people. Meet them this way and you may be surprised by the results!

For more information about how ndc can help you or your leadership team, get in touch.

Written by:
John Crossan

Culture Consultancy, Leadership Development, Executive Coaching

October 19, 2023