Leading Amidst Uncertainty: The Role of Vision in Troubled Times

Nearly ten years ago, I went to a CIO conference in New York and heard a fantastic presentation by a CIO at a major financial institution. They joined the company in 2010, when there was a lot of uncertainty due to the Financial Crisis, and the bailouts that were received, and it was difficult to figure out what the company’s future held.

When there is so much uncertainty, it can be challenging to lead, but the CIO knew that changes within the IT organisation were required in order to improve efficiency and implement new systems.

Rather than focusing on the uncertainty regarding the future of the company, they focused on the certainty of what he knew needed improving, which in turn gave his team a sense of purpose and vision for what they needed to do.

Although the long-term uncertainty was still there, the CIO was able to get his team to focus on the short-term needs, help them become productive, move forward and look to add value.

The view the CIO took was one of ‘OK, we don’t know what the future holds, but I want to make sure that whatever it holds, whatever happens, I want the IT organisation to be in a better shape than it is now’.

It would have been easy to come in and wallow in the uncertainty, but that’s not what good leaders do.

Good leaders find purpose and create a vision even in difficult times.

The vision created here was that the IT department would be in better shape in the future than it is today, so even if we get taken over, we will hand over a department that’s in good shape.

This vision allows the teams to have a purpose and to take pride in their organisation, to have a goal that no matter what happens we have added value,  and to know that we have done the best that we could have done.

This is the role of leaders, in times of trouble we need to get people’s minds off of the problems and back on to solutions and to be forward-looking.

Try to create some certainty where there is none, or to at least create an image of a positive future that people can work towards, rather than just fearing for the worst.

We never know what will happen, but we can always look to work towards a positive outcome, and even if it doesn’t materialise at least we looked to contribute, to try and create a positive outcome, rather than just sitting on the fence and waiting to see.

Inaction can often lead to the very outcomes that we fear or that we do not want.

Leadership is also about creating hope and inspiring people and this is needed more than ever when we lead in troubled times.

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