Uncertainty is usually caused by unexpected events, but look at headlines over recent days and there are plenty of reasons to validate a decision to ‘batten down the hatches’, play it safe and avoid all risk (despite avoidance and doing nothing being a risk in itself). The ‘expected ‘ event amidst political turmoil here in the UK is causing unprecedented uncertainty, causing alarm perhaps at one end of the spectrum, to incredulousness at the other, making it challenging for many, personally and professionally.
There is much commentary about bold and courageous leadership in tough times. In the lifecycle of most businesses and indeed life itself, at some point there is doubt over what is the best next step to take. Sometimes unforeseen developments lead to situations that feel way beyond our control. Leaders need to address the fear of the unknown and combat the negative effects of uncertainty.
When some leaders are unsure, the perceived easy route is to keep quiet to avoid being seen as weak or out-of-control in front of staff. Of course, this generally has completely the opposite effect. A lack of information, clarity and direction leads to gossip at best and negativity, dips in performance and productivity, amongst other damage, at worst.
Keeping communication channels open, engaging with staff at all levels and providing short-term reassurance can keep teams on the right track. Humans like certainty and where there is none, assumption can wreak havoc. As one of my favourite quotes of Abraham Maslow states ‘ I suppose it is tempting, when the only tool that you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail’.
Acknowledging uncertainty can develop inordinate levels of trust and loyalty. Of course given space and a little freedom – innovation and creativity emerge, both essential in a challenging market.
Leaders who embrace and focus upon short-term gains and achievements will invariably experience positive change and growth even in difficult times, compared to more rigid organisations. Small wins will enable the business to continue to move forward at a steady, consistent pace.
When fear is running amok, it is those who are able to rein it in and take decisive action who will find opportunity amidst uncertainty, and reap the greatest rewards.
Of course, we’re not all wired with the appetite for risk like Richard Branson or Ant Middleton. But it’s when you feel like playing it safe that you need to be the most intentional about not letting your insecurities fears and doubts limit your potential and possibilities.
Stepping beyond your comfort zone may be in itself an act of personal boldness and courage. It demands that you lay your vulnerability on the line; that you take a risk. But consider this: while playing safe may give you a sense of temporary security, in the longer term it may ultimately set you up for the utmost insecurity.
Being bold and courageous isn’t the absence of fear or self-doubt, but action in their presence. Don’t wait to feel bold before you start acting boldly, ask yourself what you would do if you were feeling bold and take a step forward in whichever direction your answer suggests.
As John Dryden said, ‘boldness is a mask for fear, however great’, and of course a negative thought is harmless – unless you believe it.
Breathe and go boldly….