How to Lead Your People During Uncertainty: With a Little Courage and Hope
Updated: Sep 8
GRAPPLING WITH UNCERTAINTY
We often use a phrase at InitiativeOne: "Leaders must become comfortable with being uncomfortable." When I hear this phrase, my mind goes toward the discomfort of uncertainty. Uncertainty is somewhat of a fear of mine. The general idea of discomfort rarely scares me too much. I've found life quite uncomfortable for most of my memory, so it's almost effortless for me to rationalize that tension away. It's uncertainty that I find to be most challenging.
One moment of Leadership Transformation that I find incredibly impactful is when each team member shares their 2-word purpose statement at the end of the process. My purpose statement is that I exist to serve others by Clarifying Meaning. You can probably see how this rubs up against uncertainty.
Uncertainty is a sort of limbo period. For me, this doesn't necessarily lead to discomfort, but it makes my mind race, searching for answers that most likely aren't here for me to find. I don't think I'm alone here either. Uncertainty opens the door to fear. We've seen this in action during the last couple of years of political turmoil, public health crises, and economic flux. When you are expected to have all of the answers, it's quite a humbling experience not to have any. Leaders often feel the need to have it all together, project an unwavering sense of confidence, and seek answers even when they are not present.
WHAT DOES COURAGE LOOK LIKE?
Courage does not have to be this incredible sense of machismo and confidence. Often, it's just leading from a sense of purpose toward a common goal. It does not take a superhero to do that. In fact, it's probably better if superheroes aren't involved. Trusting your team is more important than putting the team on your back as a leader. Real courage is taking responsibility for what you can control and setting up the people around you for success.
Courageous leadership often looks like a good coach, putting players in positions to make winning plays by reinforcing systems that become second nature, so they know what to do in times of crisis. Times change, but the identity of the culture and the organization's purpose stay rooted in place. There is always something to go back to as a reminder of who the team is and where the team is going. Courageous leaders instill these reminders in their team regularly.
CAN WE HAVE HOPE FOR THE FUTURE?
I believe that hope is a choice. I have similar feelings toward hope as joy. Joy is grounded in reality; it is a choice. It goes beyond mere happiness. In the same way, hope is more profound than optimism. We can choose to be optimistic without giving our hearts to a situation. Hope requires us to invest in one another and create the future we long to see. When leaders commit to their people by trusting them and pouring into their potential, they invest in hope.
Uncertainty can lead us dangerously away from hope, but that is why fostering relationships that build on reality is essential. Real, firm hope recognizes how life really is but isn't afraid to cast a vision of change for the future. Leaders do this in times of intense wrestling, hardship, and uncertainty. Hope steadies the ship, and it provides people with the opportunity to do something courageous as they move forward into the unknown.