I’ve always liked the rather Zen-like phrase, When you’re falling, dive. It’s the title of a powerful self-help book (of sorts) by Cheri Huber.
It’s how I try to approach the current climate of change and uncertainty . In certain ways, we should give into it – the harder you clench and brace, the harder it will be. Don’t try to take control of something you can’t control.
Taking this step back helps us see things more clearly, too. You might notice that the more uncertain things become and the more the landscape changes, the clearer your sense of your own core qualities. As it becomes less and less possible to forcibly adapt yourself to the pace of change, which is now nigh-on giddying, the opportunity to accept our own inherent capacities is presented to us. More than accept, in fact: cherish. These are the qualities that set us apart. The happy byproduct of accepting this in your career is accepting ourselves a bit more as a person, full stop.
Uncertainty can make us freeze. The positive flipside of freezing is to dance with the change, to front up to its movement with our own response, which does not seek to copy but rather to complement. In other words, if change doesn’t freeze us, it can supercharge us creatively.
How do we meet uncertainty in this manner? By welcoming it and even evangelising for it. That way we dissolve its power to frighten.
We might also tell ourselves and our teams that we don’t need to have the answer, the readymade solution. And that should not frighten us either. For so long, the pace of change was manageable. It telegraphed its arrival. Because we had time to prepare, we were supposed to have solutions. Not so now. With the evolution of technology, disruptive change can arrive on our laps in an instant. We are not expected to have the answer to it straight away – but we are expected to respond creatively. And remember too that everyone’s in the same boat. When nobody has seen the problem before, nobody has a head start. Allow that thought to create space.
Keeping creativity flowing in the face of uncertainty is a tricky skill for leaders. On the one hand, it is harmful to organise a creative project with lots of admin and structure, which are stifling factors. Yet on the other hand, being too hands-off can lead to aimless navel-gazing. Some structure is needed and that structure should be in the form of the leader’s regular, encouraging, understanding, curious voice. A voice that does not seek to steer the creative project but does try to provide a clear narrative thread that becomes a reinforcing mirror of what the project is doing.
A few other little pointers for leading amongst uncertainty and change:
– Believe in your team. You cannot fix all this on your own, though if you regard uncertainty as a crisis, you might find yourself tempted to try and do so.
– Believe in your team’s diversity. One of the reasons that the challenges facing business are mounting in number, variety and complexity is that the digital world means that the number, variety and complexity of human beings is represented more and more. Embrace the number, variety and complexity of your teams to meet these challenges.
– Be honest about what you know and don’t know. You might find you don’t know what you thought you did and know more about what you thought you didn’t!
– Connect with all levels of your workforce. If you’re a few managerial levels away from people, they know things that you don’t.
– Embrace the truth that communication is not just a tool, it is part of what makes a leader a leader. Elevate its status in your own mind.