Leading in Times of Uncertainty

By Susan Kerosky

Evolving your leadership to adapt to your changing environment

As we enter fall, it is a good time to prepare for what winter might bring in weather and our environment. Similarly, we can take time to prepare for changes that may happen within our organizations. The great news is that we have a choice—we can choose to adapt strategically to the changing environment with the help of strategic plans we create for our organizations, or we can find ourselves reacting and responding to what is happening around us. This raises a question around change leadership: as a leader, how do you adapt to changes in your environment?

When I think about my own adaptation for winter, I structure my thinking and activities to be responsive to two types of changes:

  1. Changes that are known
  2. Changes that are unknown

Changes that are known

Living in the Pacific Northwest, I know the winter will be cold, dark and rainy.  There will be times when my more limited access to the outdoors will create a sense of longing for sunnier days. I adapt by creating more opportunities for social interaction—spirit lifting interactions with friends and family—to offset the gloominess.

Likewise, leaders know that when navigating through change there will be times of fear, failure and discovery—for themselves and their team. As a leader, you can adapt your style by:

  • Keeping the communication flowing within your organization
  • Adapting your change strategy to what you are hearing
  • Identifing points of resistance
  • Addressing resistance as needed

Changes that are unknown

There is one universal truth about harsh winters—we need to be nimble to adapt to the uncertainty of our changing environment. Waiting for the snow and ice to melt is more challenging when you have limited supplies.

Leaders don’t always have the luxury of knowing when the next storm will come. As a leader, when we take time to navigate the uncertainty you can:

  • Reflect on your own desire to lead or support change
  • Seek clarity to know what is expected from you as a leader to implement change successfully
  • Build capabilities to lead change
  • Seize opportunities to reinforce and support change

As a leader, you don’t always have the opportunity to control or know when a change is coming. Yet you always have an opportunity to frame things from a positive perspective. You (and each member of your team) will experience a personal transition related to the change. Make a priority to understand your adaptation needs and the team’s needs and adapt your leadership approach accordingly. This will allow your organization to be more responsive to uncertain environments and better enable your team members to thrive during times of transition.

Winters, regardless of how harsh they can be, always give way to a spring filled with renewal and rebirth. By mindfully preparing yourself and your team for a winter of change you can lead your organization into a season of renewal and increased effectiveness.