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Intentional Leadership

How to show up and lead during uncertainty

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Regardless of where you are in the world, we can all agree on one thing – these are challenging and unprecedented times.  The rapidly evolving news on COVID-19 is leaving many of us spinning in a circle of uncertainty, leading to fear, stress and overwhelming feelings. It’s during these turbulent times that one thing becomes clear – leadership matters.   

World leaders, companies, business leaders, small business owners, entrepreneurs, and parents have found themselves in an extraordinary situation over the past week.   Decisions and choices are being made quickly in uncharted territory.  It has demonstrated the need for all of us to be more intentional about how we are showing up for ourselves and each other. 

During times of uncertainty, how we show up for our teams becomes even more critical and requires us to be intentional about our presence and leadership. Our ability to impact and influence the right outcomes requires a strong alignment between our mind, body, and words – to connect authentically, build confidence in others, and lead with empathy. It requires a set of mindsets and behaviors that exhibit decisiveness during unpredictability, courage to be forward-thinking, and the emotional balance to remain calm and collected.  Quite simply, it means being intentional about how we want to make people feel and experience our leadership.  

When we are faced with a crisis, it is critical to focus on how our presence can fuel compassion, confidence, and connection. Here are some key strategies on how to effectively show up and lead during uncertainty:

How we think

It starts with mastering our mindset. Showing up for ourselves and others is a journey and a practice. It is a set of actions, steps, choices, and course corrections towards acknowledging and accepting our humanness.  We can easily be pulled into cynicism and fear that inadvertently creates a ripple effect around us.  It’s important to identify the assumptions and beliefs we are carrying.  Pause, notice and label emotions and feelings with compassion. Labeling emotions helps us reduce their intensity and by reframing our thoughts, we can control and work through them.  Take the time to reflect on values and focus on what you can control. Practice gratitude and keep things in perspective based on facts, not fear.

How we act

Uncertainty can fuel disconnection. As leaders, we play a key role in fostering trust, an environment of psychological safety, and collective resilience.  Commit to creating a space where employees can openly discuss ideas, ask questions, share their concerns, and perspectives, without fear of retaliation.

We can’t do it alone and we don’t need to.  The most effective leaders come together and help each other lead, working as one team.  Remember, our employees are watching and waiting for signs and signals about how they should act and what they should do. We must be mindful of the behaviors and actions we are role-modeling.  Are we sending the signals we want to be sending?

What we say

Transparency is key. It requires us to balance empathy and optimism, communicating from a place of compassion, vulnerability, and humility. 

This crisis affects people first, personally and professionally. It’s important for our employees to feel seen, heard, and supported.  We can do this by ensuring we are communicating regularly and consistently – balancing listening and talking. It means taking the time to thoughtfully prepare our messages focusing on what our teams need to know, think, feel and do. 

Prioritizing togetherness, a sense of belonging, and social solidarity has never been more important. With increased remote working, self-isolation, and social distancing, it’s important that we schedule virtual daily touchpoints. Try using video conferencing tools such as Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams or Facetime. Look for informal opportunities to meet for virtual coffees and virtual team lunches. Encourage team members to share what routines are working for them and what’s not working to support virtual collaboration.

Be respectful of everyone’s situation and space. Meet with team members individually to understand what they need to feel supported in this environment.  By sharing our circumstances, we encourage others to do the same, and can then discuss how we can best accommodate them.  Everyone’s situation is different. Team members may be juggling parenting responsibilities or caregiving for elderly family, friends or neighbors. Work to alleviate feelings of pressure or guilt that employees may experience in trying to do it all. Explore choices and options around when, where and how to work.

How we react 

The ability to demonstrate composure while maintaining a sense of urgency has never been more critical.  Cutting through the noise of social media, misinformation and conflicting data can be challenging. React calmly and thoughtfully versus impulsively out of fear. This means we need to be more deliberate about “practicing the pause”, to assess, plan, and course-correct as necessary.

By recognizing what triggers us, we can effectively find strategies to self-manage in the moment such as deep breathing, writing, or taking a walk.  This requires us as leaders to prioritize our own well-being, ensuring we are taking time to rest and recover in order to show up exuding a calm confidence.

Our Impact

During times of uncertainty, a strong presence requires us to be intentional about how we think, act, speak and react. Great leaders approach these challenges with extreme grit – a mental toughness, perseverance, and unwavering focus. This may mean making difficult short-term choices to mitigate a longer-term negative impact. As we navigate these uncertain times, remember – we are always stronger together.

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