Leadership in Times of Uncertainty
By: Geetha Ramamoorthi, Managing Director, KBR India | Wednesday, 29 March 2023
Geetha Ramamoorthi has rich and diverse experience in Finance, Operations, Business leadership, Business Change and Digital, and heads KBR India as its Managing Director. She has acquired certifications from MIT Sloan, Imperial Business School, UCL School of Management and Grenoble Ecole de management on subjects ranging from Digital Transformation to Climate Change, Corporate Strategy, Blockchain and Energy transition. As a Thinkers360 thought leader, Geetha is an avid speaker in various forums and actively writes articles on topics ranging from leadership, to Digital transformation, Change management, and Inclusion & Diversity.
Let’s admit; uncertainty cannot be avoided in every walk of life, be it in one’s professional career or personal life; it must be faced and overcome. The aim of this article is to consider what behaviours and attributes are needed to lead effectively and meaningfully in an uncertain and unpredictable environment.
Leading in uncertain times call for qualities and attributes that go beyond qualities that underpin traditional leadership. As an example, the covid pandemic itself - coming as it did as a black swan event, came unannounced and pushed people out of their comfort zone; yet we found ways to cope and adapt to the new normal.It spurred innovation and growth even when its contours kept changing rapidly. We don’t know if Covid has been or will be eradicated fully and we can’t predict its future. Yet, wemustbraze ourselves for a recurrence and deal with it whenit recurs. In other words, we must deal withthe uncertainty it brings.
Behaviours we must demonstrate to lead successfully in uncertain times
1. Give up control
You need to accept that you can’t predict or control everything that happens around or to you. In trying to predict or control, you end up adding to your stress; on the contrary giving up control and preparing yourself mentally, physically, emotionally to deal with unforeseen situations will help you cope better. Accepting the fact that you have zero control over what happens will help you become more resilient and nimbler. Practising mindfulness can also help you get better at this.
2. Acknowledge you don’t have all the answers
Recognizing and acknowledging you may not have sufficient knowledge or expertise to deal with every problem or situation that comes unannounced and being comfortable to ask your colleagues or supervisoror team members for support is a more practical approach to take. If you aim to be the smartest person in the room, you will soon realize you can’t be a successful leader. You were not hired to solve every problem or win every battle by yourself, and this is more relevant when you are leading in uncertain times.
3. Stop aiming for perfection
When you don’t know when what will hit you, don’t aim for perfection in trying to deal with every situation or problem, lest your fetish for perfection drives you to settle for a solution that is impractical and fails to deliver what you were aiming to deliver or, you take far too long to perfect it that the problem remains no longer a problem so your efforts go down the drain. Be comfortable with imperfect solutions and keep iterating till you see the results you are targeting.
4. Build a culture of continuous learning
Be cognizant of the value and potential of learning; learning from mistakes is as valuable as learning from a management or leadership course. Being open minded to learn, adapt and evolve will help you to equip yourselves better when faced with challenges and setbacks. Apart from imbibing this yourself, build a culture that drives and enables continuous learning in your organization so your team is equipped to support you in navigating the ship in uncertain and unpredictable times and become mature and capable leaders themselves.
5. Focus and foster adaptability
When you realize you can’t predict what’s coming your way despite the most robust of plans and smartest of forecasts, staying adaptable will help you to quickly fine tune, change or course-correct, when circumstances you are less prepared for catch you unawares. As a leader you need to be adaptable before you expect your teams to adapt. This emotional aspect of embracing adaptability is so critical for you and your team to stay relevant. Celebrate people that have adapted well to a project or a situation or a change in role and share the success story to motivate and encourage others to become adaptable.
6. Keep channels of communication open
When the situation keeps changing in a manner you are not prepared for, communicating sidewards, downwards, and upwards is key. Staying connected and communicating every step of the way will go a long way in strengthening your ability to deal with such situations effectively and quickly, while helping mitigate adverse impact on your business and people.
7. Embrace and demonstrate humility
Last but not the least, leading with humility (which in a way is linked to #2 and #4 above) is essential. Being humble allows you to listen more, learn more and love what you do and who you do it for. Humble leaders carry success lightly on their shoulders but carry responsibilities rather heavily, even while delegating and empowering their people. Humble leaders often demonstrate authenticity in their behaviours which help them lead with conviction, courage care, and confidence.