We are in uncertain times. Here’s how to lead them.

by Ana Lopez

Opinions of contributing entrepreneurs are their own.

From my Utah office, the stark whiteness of the snow outside reminds me that much of 2023 remains out of view, and only the passage of time will reveal the changes that will emerge this New Year. Like every year, 2023 will bring us a whole new set of unforeseen challenges. Some of them are already here, such as an economic slowdown, inflation unlike anything we’ve seen in nearly half a century, and skyrocketing rates of employee burnout.

Like many leaders, I often start my days feeling like I have an obstacle course ahead of me. But as someone who has worked in leadership and organizational development for over 20 years, I’ve found that it doesn’t have to feel that way. In fact, the New Year and the challenges ahead can be positioned as opportunities rather than obstacles.

While it may seem counterintuitive, you can set yourself and your team up to make amends more gains in this changing environment than losses, especially in the form of innovation — it just takes the right framework. Here are four timeless principles that will help any leader better manage uncertainty for themselves and their teams.

Related: How the Best Executives Show Leadership in Times of Uncertainty

1. Evolve your mindset

One of the most important habits to keep moving forward in the midst of change is to practice your mindset. Recognize that you have the power to choose how you view your day and your work. If you consistently remember that you have more power than you think you have to intentionally choose a calm mindset, this shift will help you deal with uncertainty in the workplace. Most importantly, it helps you stay focused on the priorities that are most valuable to your organization.

If your inbox and schedule are similar to mine, you probably have unread emails vying for your attention and back-to-back meetings that, while important, feel like they’re the “real” work that needs to be done stand in the way of.

That’s just the way it is. We can choose to panic about the sheer volume of emails and meetings we have, or we can say to ourselves, “Well, that’s just is…” Working ourselves up and spending our workday with high cortisol levels doesn’t help.

I often compare it to a hamster wheel. It’s so easy for leaders to jump on that wheel and run faster and faster to get it all done. But all we end up doing is exhausting ourselves prematurely. In fact, 59% of Americans recently reported moderate to severe levels of burnout. We turn our wheels too fast and push ourselves past the breaking point. Instead, choose to remain calm in the face of uncertainty and focus on what you’re doing can check. Recognize that you just can’t do it all at once. This calm perspective and focus enable us to complete our work more effectively, productively and with a happier attitude. A triple win.

Related: The 4 things leaders should do first when faced with uncertainty

2. Focus on the space between stimulus and response

One thing that brings out change in all of us is a stimulus response – a gut reaction to disruptions in our daily routines. But there is power in the space between the stimulus and response. That’s where we have the opportunity to pause and consider our response. We can decide for ourselves what we want to place in the room.

It could be listening to a colleague. You may be acknowledging that you don’t know the answer to a problem and need to collect research. It may be about going back to your business objectives and re-prioritizing your goals. That space is where you decide what comes next instead of just reacting to what is thrown at you. Recognize that it is healthy and important to give time to that space before reacting. Show with your own actions that that space is also valuable for your team.

3. Create a safe environment with a lot of trust

While the first two principles focus on navigating change as an individual, the last two principles can help you manage change within your team and organization. A key to helping your team properly navigate change is to intentionally create an environment that is safe and embraces trust. If your team is running around with pins and needles, fearing they’ll be fired every day, or wondering which of their key initiatives will be shut down, they’re probably not focused on being productive or effective.

Creating a safe environment with a lot of trust is not as difficult as it may seem. Simple things like making a point to talk to each of your employees regularly and one-on-one and ask them about their individual concerns or pain points can go a long way in building trust. You can reiterate to them your team’s business strategy and business goals while being transparent as those goals evolve and change. You can remind them of their worth and express gratitude for their contribution to your team. These simple actions will build stronger relationships and develop trust between you and your team members and colleagues.

Related: 2023 is the year and a fear of uncertainty. Here’s how to navigate through it.

4. Turn uncertainty into a challenge

One of the best ways to actually deal with the uncertainty and do something productive with it is to focus it on a specific challenge. Accept the challenge (ie the problem to be solved) and then decide as a team to solve it. This gives you something constructive to do with that anxious and insecure energy and an opportunity to work together and turn it into something positive. This process empowers and engages employees — and it’s where meaningful innovation is born.

While none of us have a crystal ball, with the right mindset you can cut through uncertainty and help your team do the same. Recognize your employees as the brilliant individuals they are. When you try to create a safe environment with a lot of trust and work with your team on the changes to come, you will be surprised to see the innovation your team brings forth.

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