These are most certainly uncertain times. In my sessions with clients over the last few months, the underlying cause for this uncertainty is COVID, but what specifically each of the leaders is uncertain about varies. As one of my clients said, “Jim, I actually have no idea what we should do.”
The problem with all of this uncertainty is it is very good at causing stress in humans, which when heightened, leads to anxiety. The problem with anxiety is that anxiety is very effective at making us ineffective. We just are not as productive, and even the simple problems become difficult to solve.
Dr. Liji Thomas says, “uncertainty about the future makes us less capable of coping with negative events when they happen.” This is problematic since, as humans, we always have to be working through (or IDS™-ing as teams running on EOS® would say) issues. It is a part of our daily existence. Dr. Thomas goes on to say, uncertainty “also disables us from taking effective and efficient steps to avoid them.” Them, once again being the stress and anxiety that it causes. So, when left unchecked, uncertainty can lead to more uncertainty. This is a bad downward spiral.
Don’t worry, this is not the first edition of the Nexus Medical Journal. I explain all of this to help you see how important it is for us, as leaders, to create certainty. To do this work, it is good to understand where certainty is usually communicated. There are really four main sources: government, media, family, and work.
In recent years, the political environment and the influx of fear as a major communication strategy have not been very helpful in creating certainty. This is not a political statement. We’ve seen very little agreement from the voices in government and media, and we are left with uncertainty. This leaves our families and our work as the primary sources that can help us to feel a sense of stability and foundation in our lives.
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So, what does this mean for you as a business leader? You have to be the rock or the lighthouse as my friend Mark O’Donnell says. You have to create assurance and faith in the future, even when you can’t see it. How do you do this? The first step is to make decisions and move forward even when you can’t see the path. It is times like this that pressure-test leaders.
What your people want to see is action. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but you have to make decisions and take action. As Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
Next, you have to communicate those decisions and plans of action. Or, as I have been prone to say lately, you have to communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more. Certainty is created when action meets communication. You have to be willing to tell your team what is going on and what you are doing about it.
I recently asked one of my clients about her communication strategy and how the Quarterly State of the Company addresses (QSOCs) were going. She laughed, “QSOCs? That’s quaint. We are doing WSOCs” (Weekly State of the Company addresses).” Her team is loving it.
Leaders, this is your duty. Do the work you need to create assurance in the lives of the people you touch. Help them see they are cared for and that there is at least one place in their life that they can find certainty in uncertain times.