Leading Through Change and Uncertainty
People crave stability, certainty, and balance in their lives. When that is taken away, it can fuel anxiety, frustration, even anger—all emotional states that spike our stress levels. When we experience prolonged periods of heightened stress, it takes a significant toll on our ability to function mentally, emotionally, and physically.
And, in the midst of the Coronavirus crisis, we are experiencing change and uncertainty in an unprecedented way.
Right now, leaders and managers may feel compelled to keep their plates spinning. But, their efforts to maintain a sense of normalcy could actually erode their team’s productivity. People are not going to be capable of operating at peak levels at this time. Stress not only decreases our energy levels, but it also lowers our ability to engage the prefrontal cortex of the brain, where rational critical thinking takes place. We literally go into survival mode—our bodies and brains are focused on self-protection. In short, most folks are not thinking or doing anything at 100% right now.
How can leaders lead their people through rapid change and uncertain times?
Adopt a Growth Mindset
In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck describes how people with a growth mindset—those who believe that they have the power to grow and develop their abilities continuously—can readily bounce back from failures, embrace challenges, and ultimately perform at higher levels. When people are in a fixed mindset, they believe they have little control over their lives. They avoid challenging situations and risks, are afraid or defensive when they make mistakes, and often give up easily when the going gets tough. Leaders can instill a growth mindset in their teams by valuing curiosity, fast failures, and creative solutions.
Leaders may be juggling a variety of demands that often compel them to focus on the task when what we need to lean into is checking in with the people. The COVID-19 crisis is not only a source of anxiety and frustration, but it is also a potential source of grief and trauma. The people who work with and for you are suffering in ways you may not know. Take a few minutes to check-in individually with members of your team. Ask open-ended questions to understand how they are doing and what they need. Listen and empathize. Suspend judgment and critique.
Build Community and Common Purpose
Change and uncertainty can lead to a sense of disconnected isolation. People may feel confused or anxious about the organization’s new direction, or even its future stability, and therefore begin to lose sight of their common purpose. When change occurs rapidly, people may be unclear on what the future vision or goals are, which leaves them feeling paralyzed. Leaders can create community by bringing everyone together to discuss the change openly, to air their concerns, and to develop strategies to overcome challenges collaboratively. Reminding people on a daily basis of the team or organization’s mission and how what they do contributes to that mission is critical.
Uncertainty and change can ultimately yield incredible results in terms of innovation, collaboration, and progress, but first people need to feel supported, heard, and cared for by leaders.
If any of these scenarios sound familiar, I would like to invite you to join me at a virtual presentation on May 16, 2020, where I, and several of my peers, will discuss ways to remain resilient in the face of remarkable uncertainty.
Maria Morukian MA, PCC, is President and Founder, MSM Global Consulting, LLC, and a Management Concepts Instructor. For more than 15 years, she has been consulting, training, and coaching senior leaders within and beyond the federal government for growth and development. Maria earned a dual bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in Organizational Studies and Spanish and a master’s degree from American University in International Communication, and she holds multiple professional certifications.