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5 Leadership Tips for Communicating During Uncertainty

In leading your organization, there will be times when everything just seems to be clicking, where all that you touch turns to gold, profits pour in and people sing your praises. 

And then there will be moments like most of us are currently experiencing, when the chips are down.

If one word could describe the state of everything right now, it would be uncertainty.

The stock market. The economy as a whole. World affairs. Retirement. Energy sources. Real estate. Healthcare. Politics. Corporate earnings. Maybe even the future status of your job or company (but hey, at least you can’t say that about the status of the new, 15-years-in-the-making Guns N’ Roses CD anymore).

Uncertainty is all around. And it can easily derail your leadership efforts.

If your communications during these moments are inconsistent with what you say in times of smooth sailing, your vision will become clouded and those you are leading will doubt your abilities, losing faith in your efforts.

In the days immediately following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the United States experienced great levels of uncertainty. Many wondered just how secure national security truly was. Questions abounded on how badly the economy would suffer. And doubts of whether New York City could fully recover from the aftermath were not uncommon. But at the center of this tragedy was a consistency of leadership that, politics aside, pushed the city, and the nation, through it all.

While it is unlikely your role as a leader will ever include a series of events as tumultuous as 9/11, it is certain that your organization will experience uncertainty of varying degrees. To fully realize your vision, regardless of how certain or uncertain everything may be, your communication must have exceptional, consistent clarity.

Don’t Let Circumstance Dictate Your Overall Message
“The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today,” said former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR’s unprecedented three terms as president included the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor and World War II. Despite these overwhelming circumstances, the message Roosevelt consistently offered was one that did not get caught up in the details of the current day, which was filled with doubts, fears and uncertainty. Instead, he focused on communicating about working for a new and better tomorrow. With this mindset, he created long-lasting social reforms, commanded a war victory and ushered in a new era of world peace.

Stick to Your Guns
Remembering what set your vision in motion, and the goals you set in place provides a true north no matter what set of circumstances, good or bad, fall into your path. Remind your subordinates of these values regularly through different avenues of communication, and never abandon them. “There are many qualities that make a great leader. But having strong beliefs, being able to stick with them through popular and unpopular times, is the most important characteristic of a great leader,” former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani explains.

Be Candid
When dealing with uncertainty, it is important to remain positive, but avoid wearing the proverbial rose-colored glasses by pretending things are not as bad as they seem. Acknowledge the challenges that have arisen, and the difficulties that will be experienced in trying to overcome them. But at the same time, keep your team focused on getting to the end of the tunnel despite how dark the current stretch might be. Be real with the issues, but not pessimistic about them—engineer your train toward the light with constant encouragement.

Avoid Overreacting
In his book Leadership, Giuliani writes, “Part of leadership is harnessing your passions in a way that serves your goals—my father’s advice: stay calm.” Any time uncertainty roams amid the minds of your subordinates, a series of emotions is sure to pour out, which can often lead to negative reactions. While you should be sensitive to your team’s concerns, do not let them overwhelm the matter by setting the example of keeping everything in check.  Likewise, when things are going well, do not get caught up in the success moment, keeping yourself and your subordinates grounded and focused on the vision.

Avoid Detachment
While it is important to keep emotions in check, people look up to a leader who reacts like any human would, not one who seems detached. Giuliani follows up his previous thought with this statement: “Another part of leadership is retaining your humanity. The anger I felt, and continue to feel, about the attacks on the World Trade Center is healthy. The challenge was to put it to work in ways that would make me a stronger, better leader.” Communicating your feelings on circumstances rather than simply acting on them is important. Share your thoughts on matters, in both good times and bad, and do it face-to-face with the people you are leading, allowing a type of interaction that other methods do not.

New York City was able to get through the uncertainty of 9/11, and our nation sustained the adversity of a depression and global wars. Getting through the mess of current events will be accomplished as well with strong leadership that provides a clear message at the helm of your organization .

This post is part of a leadership development series appearing on The Hiring Site. For more tips on how to grow your leadership skills and develop them in others within your organization, tune back each week.

What uncertainties are you or your company currently facing? What is being communicated? How else can you prevent uncertainty from dictating your messaging to employees and customers?

Stephanie Gaspary

About Stephanie Gaspary

Stephanie is the managing director of content strategy at CareerBuilder, tasked with creating opportunities to share the CareerBuilder story across job seeker and employer channels. Stephanie, a lifelong learner, holds a Master's in Business Administration and a Master's in Management - both from North Park University and a Bachelor's degree in Art from Bethel University. A Minnesotan at heart, Stephanie has lived in Chicago for nearly 20 years, is the doting mother to two wacky german shorthaired pointer pups, looks forward to her morning run *almost* as much as that first cup of coffee and vows to one day live in the mountains.
2 comments
Ron Meledandri - Sentra Business Solutions
Ron Meledandri - Sentra Business Solutions

Uncertainty seems to bother people more than knowing the bad news. I saw people who were nervous and had low productivity when they heard rumors of pending work force reductions. Yet, when they were actually notified that they were going to be out of a job in 60 days, they became calm and worked at their normal levels. A leader is only a good leader when he or she leads through times of uncertainty. Anyone can lead when times are good. Some can even lead when they know times will be bad for the next x number of periods. The true leader leads through times of uncertainty.

Ron Meledandri - Sentra Business Solutions
Ron Meledandri - Sentra Business Solutions

Uncertainty seems to bother people more than knowing the bad news. I saw people who were nervous and had low productivity when they heard rumors of pending work force reductions. Yet, when they were actually notified that they were going to be out of a job in 60 days, they became calm and worked at their normal levels. A leader is only a good leader when he or she leads through times of uncertainty. Anyone can lead when times are good. Some can even lead when they know times will be bad for the next x number of periods. The true leader leads through times of uncertainty.

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