Dealing with Uncertainty – What Differentiates a Good Leader from a Great Leader

One of our key responsibilities as leaders is to deal with uncertainty, to lead and guide our teams when the path ahead is not always clear.

This is one of the most difficult responsibilities for a leader to take on; we must be courageous, trust in ourselves, and have the trust of our teams.

Leading teams through difficult crises is, in my opinion, an easier job.  As Churchill says, “if you’re going through hell, keep going”. It may be difficult, but we know that if we stick to the plan, and hold our course of action then we will come through it, in that situation we don’t have that many options, we just need to keep following the plan.

But in times of uncertainty, often the problem is that we don’t know what is the best course of action, it’s unclear what the future will hold, so it’s difficult to know what is the best direction to take. Or at least we let these questions cloud our judgement and impact our focus.

It is in these circumstances that people look towards their leaders for answers, and it is here that it can be the most difficult.

Whenever I am faced with a situation such as this I try to identify what I know is certain, plan around that and focus on achieving that goal.

For example, there have been several occasions when the future of the company, maybe the company would be acquired, or the company would make an acquisition, each of these scenarios was a possibility, each of which would have an impact on the department, but none of them were certain.

As I mentioned earlier in these times I have looked to focus on what was certain, what I knew to be important for us to focus on, which was to ensure that we operated as efficiently and effectively as possible. Make sure that all deadlines, quality targets and budget targets are met.  Any deviation from this would mean that we had let the uncertainty get in the way of achieving our daily goals.

We cannot control what the future may bring, but we can control what we do on a daily basis, and we can continue to focus and deliver.

We need to make sure that we maintain our momentum, if we have developed a Winning Culture and we start to lose focus, then we can start to make unforced errors. Regaining a Winning Culture is harder than maintaining it, and losing it can be very easy.

This is much harder to do than to say, especially if it could have a personal impact.

There were two excellent examples of this in sport in 2012 with Barcelona and Tottenham.

At Barcelona, Pep Guardiola announced, before the end of the season, that he would be stepping down as manager at the end of the season.

At Tottenham, it was perceived that their manager Harry Redknapp, would be leaving to become England manager and that a new manager would be put in place.

For both of these teams, their performance dropped significantly, once they knew or believed that they knew, that there would be a new manager in charge for the start of the next season. I think that this was definitely one of the key reasons why Barcelona lost their league title and lost in the Champions League to Chelsea, and also why Tottenhams’ performance dropped such that they lost a 10 point cushion and ended up as the fourth-placed team.

Neither manager was able to provide the leadership and guidance that the team needed in order to maintain their focus on the 2012 season. Their minds wandered to what was to happen in the near future, who would be the new managers, what would it mean to them as players. I’m sure that the managers focus also wondered as to what the future would hold for them.

What should have been very obvious to the players – i.e keep winning your games – became secondary and their focus and consequently their form dropped.

In these circumstances, the leaders needed to continually reinforce that, even in spite of short term uncertainty, our goals remain the same.

When faced with general uncertainty, we need to find some specific certainty to hold onto, something that we can get our teams to focus on.

For me, this is one of the most difficult tasks for a Leader and what differentiates a Good Leader from a Great Leader.

If you want to learn more about creating highly engaged teams or being a better leader click the link to make an appointment to talk about how I can help.