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Seven top tips for leading through uncertainty

Many leaders are currently facing the challenge of leading in conditions of uncertainty and unpredictability. Yet much leadership is predicated on the assumption of a relatively stable / foreseeable future - for which plans can be made.

Sarah Lewis, chartered psychologist and author offers seven tips to help leaders continue to offer leadership even in challenging conditions:

Keep Leading
When researching his book 'The Checklist Manifesto' Atul Gawande turned to the airline industry for advice. He discovered the first instruction is always 'keep flying the plane'. Similarly, 'keep offering leadership' has to be priority.

People First
When thing are running smoothly people issues can seem to be looking after themselves. Once uncertainty becomes a key part of the picture, everything changes. Spending time with people to help them remain motivated, optimistic and performing is now key.

Engender hope and optimism
One of the first causalities when uncertainty looms is hope. Creating a sense of hope is a key factor in restoring motivation and productivity. Appreciative Inquiry is particularly effective at this. Help people focus on what is good, still working, worthwhile, and on what they can influence. Helping them be proactive in the situation engenders hopefulness.

Learn to Love Emergence and Discovery
Become expert at sensing small shifts, emerging trends and ways forward by trying things out and seeing what happens. This can feel messy, inefficient and uncontrollable. But it's also timely, fast, flexible, engaging and involving.

Call on the Collective Intelligence of Your Unit
When things are changing fast and new information is constantly emerging, it's impossible for one person, or one small group, to keep on top of it all. Collaborative transformational technologies allow the collective intelligence of the whole unit to work together effectively.

Have Many Review and Reflection Points
As situations constantly change so must plans. Shift from decision-making to sense-making. Leadership behaviour in the highly changeable situations is characterised by an ability to move quickly between seemingly contrasting states, e.g. taking risks and being cautious.

Reveal Your Authenticity and Integrity
Research by Avolio and colleagues identified four key features of authentic leadership, one of which is having a strong internal moral compass. Another is 'relational transparency', meaning allowing people to know you the real you.

Offering leadership during times of uncertainty isn't easy. It requires a different understanding of leadership and leadership behaviours. Finding ways forward in a rapidly changing environment that enables the organisation to continue to flourish is too big a demand on one individual. Open Space, World Café and Appreciative Inquiry all offer ways to call on the collective intelligence of the unit, while adding value from the unique position of 'leader'.

Sarah Lewis.

More about Appreciating Change

Sarah Lewis M.Sc. C.Psychol is an associated fellow of the British Psychological Society and a principal member of the Association of Business Psychologists. She is an acknowledged Appreciative Inquiry expert, a regular conference presenter and a published author, including ‘Positive Psychology at Work’ (Wiley) and ‘Appreciative Inquiry for Change Management’ (KoganPage). See:


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