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Leading in Uncertainty

Creating From Chaos - a practical guide

Photo by Devin Avery on Unsplash

As a Leadership Coach and People Strategist recent days have been filled with many clients asking: Things feel a little overwhelming, how do I Lead Right Now?

Uncertainty abounds in the people in their teams, businesses, the economy, families, and there’s some pretty odd behavior going on. So what to do? Here’s a short summary of the the most important advice:

1) Take a deep breath. Literally close your eyes, close your mouth, and take a breath so deep you can feel your chest stretch and expand. Do this three times. 

Do it now, really, right now, I mean it. Eyes closed, mouth shut, 3 deep breaths. 

Image from Unsplash

Congratulations! You’ve just taken the first and most important step in getting the executive function of your brain back online and back in charge. 

THIS is important because fear induced decision making is almost never good and makes us as people really inefficient.

If you notice the fear creeping back in – it often does, after all it’s contagious just like this virus – close your eyes again and breathe deeply, ground yourself

2) Now that you are feeling grounded, reflect on your priorities. Check-in with yourself, what are the 3 most important things to you right now. Write them down. This will be revisited in a moment. 

3) From here connect with the most important people around you – these are your allies – the people you work closely with, and you feel close to (both internally in your business and externally). If you are following social distancing or work place rotation protocols, fabulous! Keep it up and just open up Zoom, WebEx, or wipe off your phone and call them.

Ask them what are their priorities right now? what do they need? what are their concerns? Get curious and have a very real conversation with your allies*. 

This is a really valuable leadership step as it opens up curiosity and connection and keeps things real. It will keep you from going off on a tangent and will help keep you connected to the important perspectives and concerns playing out around you. 

Fear often induces isolation. We put on our blinders and just go forth and do. 

It’s not wise to put blinders on a horse before you let it run out of a burning barn.

Same goes for you. Take your blinders off. You don’t need to have all the answers, in fact you won’t have all the answers and that’s OK. It’s important in leadership to sometimes not know.

Now that you’ve gotten curious and connected with your allies, heard their priorities, their fears, you might need to ground yourself again. Remember? Fear is contagious. Time to take another deep breath and get your executive function back and filter what’s important, interesting, or novel to you. This is how we create from chaos.

4) Now go back to your list of priorities. Do you want to adjust anything? Anything new or useful come up from your allies? Great! Integrate that into your priorities. Shift them, move them, be agile and don’t stay attached to your first ideas. 

5) Now zoom out to the really big picture. Like you’re a satellite circling the earth. Zoom way out and check two things: 1) do my priorities still make sense in the big picture? 2) do my priorities impact people the way I want them to? 

Fear often likes to blind us and get us bogged way down in granular details and creates fuzzy logic and unintended impacts. This is a really important leadership sense check. Check the big picture information and impact available to you.

6) Right now you might be having questions about the second part of the zoom out – people impact…this often feels complicated. It 100% is, and it 100% isn’t. The fact of the matter is that no matter what business you’re in, which industry, how big or small – people are at the heart of your business and work. You make, build, buy, create, with people…and for people. Without people you have no business. So you need to keep them at the heart of your decision making as a leader. Stay committed to putting people first. This is a core leadership skill, commit to it and refine your priorities if needed. 

7) Step seven. This is a hard one – this CONVID-19 thing – it’s going to impact you and your business. It just is…And it’s going to be ok. Lucky step seven is the one where you get to just for a second throw your hands up in the air and let go of all the worry because no matter what you do, this virus is going to impact you in some way. 

So why is this step lucky? Because it’s also where you also pivot to unleash your secret weapon – the power of choice. 

Once you accept what you can’t control, you get to choose what you are going to do with it. 

8) Now you get to chose and commit to the priorities and actions your are going to take for the coming 24 hours. Go forth and do them, co-create from the chaos.

….one step at a time because…

9) Tomorrow start all over again

  • Get grounded
  • Check-in with yourself
  • Get Curious and Connect
  • Adapt and adjust
  • Zoom out 
  • Commit to a people first approach and refine
  • Accept what you cannot control
  • Choose and take action
  • Go back to step one tomorrow (rinse and repeat)

In less than 10 steps you can shift from feeling lost, overwhelmed, and reactionary, to being a courageous and clear leader who is connected and agile. Leadership is a practice of both heart and mind. With these steps you can build a path forward out of uncertainty, taking people with you along the way. 

Give it a try and let me know how it goes. 

*a healthy cohort of allies will include people in your team, in other teams, your customer base, outside your business, in your family, and will be diverse in age, gender and other factors.

About the author: Lisa Dempsey is the Founder and CEO of Leadership Labs where 21st Century Leaders can grow, experiment, and step into the mindsets that will unleash the full potential within themselves and their teams, now and the future. She empowers people to live, love and lead in meaningful ways. 

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