How to Lead with Positivity When The World Is In Chaos
If 2020 is proving to be anything, it’s going to be a wild and unpredictable ride. One look at the news and you’re confronted with uncertainty at every turn: the 2020 elections, Brexit, COVID-19, conflicting economic growth indicators, escalating climate change, and growing global tensions. Many people are feeling it. Anxiety levels are at an all-time high and growing, as people worry about their health, safety and financial futures.
While recent events may have sped up the uncertainty, we’ve been living in a tumultuous time. Business has adopted the military acronym VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous – to describe the current state of normal. It can be hard for leaders to manage an uncertain environment for themselves, let alone keep others focused and calm. But that’s exactly what leaders of all levels must do to remain effective and forward-looking.
A company can’t innovate if its workers are anxious, pessimistic and even afraid. People must be able to cope with uncertainty in a way that’s not paralyzing.
So, what are some proactive techniques to move forward when we’re unsure of the outcome? How can we avoid cycling through what might happen and stay engaged in the here and now?
Here are some thoughts on how to, as the Brits say, keep calm and carry on, when there’s tumult just outside the door.
Get in control of your irrational thoughts.
Your limbic system is responsible for the fear you experience during times of uncertainty. And according to Dr. Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, fear inhibits sound decision-making.
The best way to combat these irrational thoughts? Turn on your self-awareness. Bradberry argues, “People who are good at dealing with uncertainty are wary of this fear and spot it as soon as it begins to surface. In this way, they can contain it before it gets out of control. Once they are aware of the fear, they label all the irrational thoughts that try to intensify it as irrational fears – not reality – and the fear subsides. Then they can focus more accurately and rationally on the information they have to go on.”
Ride the waves you can’t stop.
There’s no use in fighting against the choppy current, especially around issues that you can’t affect anyway. Even if it goes against your basic instincts, try to ride the wave of uncertainty rather than using precious mental energy to create an imaginary sense of control. When you feel yourself fixating, stop and ascertain if your efforts can bear fruit. If not, try to let it go.
Leadership and management writer for Inc., Peter Economy, suggests that you should focus on “upping communication throughout your organization, creating fluid hierarchies, being fully transparent and improvising whenever necessary.”
Adaptability is key at all levels. Create a cultural value around it and reward supportive behaviors in others.
Focus on what matters.
While you try to ignore what you can’t change, pick strategic battles you want to fight. This may mean that instead of being overwhelmed by large trends, you focus on a core mission. If you had to pick the top priorities for your time and energy, what rises to the top?
Inc. columnist Eric Holtzclaw argues that now is the time to hone in on your one true mission: “The goal of your organization – the reason you exist and what you bring to the world – should serve as the litmus test for everything that you do as you work through uncertainty. Staying true to your organization’s goal helps you prioritize as you sort through the chaos surrounding you. Make sure your company knows what its mission is, remind your team of that goal and drive toward it.”
Collaborate, don’t hunker.
Now is not the time to go it alone. Writing in Harvard Business Review, career expert Patti Johnson suggests that effective leaders consider multiple perspectives when navigating uncharted waters “by encouraging collaboration, input, and new ideas.” She writes: “Be inclusive, and rely less on hierarchy and more on relevant experience. Above all, avoid the ‘I have all the answers’ trap. It’s important to know when your expertise helps and when it’s creating a blind spot.”
When we’re under stress, we can go inward and tighten down external inputs. Resist the urge. You need the full capacity of your team – and the exponential impact of multiple ideas – to navigate uncertain times.
Make incremental steps.
Uncertainty can cause us to take drastic steps to alleviate our anxiety, and to create a new normal. Many organizations, and people, have followed big changes with equally big mistakes.
Instead, put together a plan composed of incremental, achievable steps. Johnson argues that this approach helps you to avoid the risks that come with making big, sweeping decisions. She writes, “Create a series of short-term plans that can evolve as the situation becomes clearer…Regularly ask your team, ‘What have we learned that must change our plans in the next three months?’”
Change is iterative, as is our feeling about the change. Our first reaction is often steeped in emotion, and with time a more sure-footed approach appears. Part of navigating any VUCA environment is realizing that every step opens up new doors, and it’s only when we walk through them that we realize what’s next.
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