Leading in times of uncertainty

I started writing this post, had it in my drafts, and of course I came back and saw it disappeared into the black hole of WP. Is this because I have it on multiple devices? Does WP not sync between devices? And I find I’m able to write and sync and publish seamlessly when online, but when I’m off-line and writing (like on long flights) the process becomes infinitely harder.

Tech issues aside, the last few weeks have been HECTIC, in the words of South Africans. I’ve had a few aha moments: one, when I realised that I’ve been in this foreign land for a whole YEAR (gosh time goes by), not just as the passing of time, but in tangible reminders of how I’ve succeeded in embedding myself in this culture. More on that later. Further, work drama escalated, which reminded me how long I’ve gone without team politics! To distance myself from all of that, I thought it was time to put down some notes, on how best to lead in times of transition, in times of uncertainty and thereby anxiety.

Just a quick contextual note – I started writing this after experiencing a sudden leadership tangle, leaving the team feeling lost, unmoored, and mistrusted. And at the same time, South Africa is going through a country-wide upheaval, where JZ circumvented democracy, and reshuffled the government as per his own cronyist policy. As I write this, marches are being planned all over the country, and though it looks like he’s not going anywhere, there is still a populist voice calling for his removal.


How could this have been avoided? Some insights, from these two experiences which could potentially be useful in all kinds of anxious moments. I would LOVE to hear more from you on this:

  1. Consult, consult, consult: I cannot begin to emphasise how important consultation is. Leaders readying their teams for new decisions, however small or large they may be, would tremendously benefit from having basic consultations with teams before implementing said decisions. While town halls, surveys etc have been used before to some effect, really nothing is as effective as a personal email, or a phone call. This might be harder in large organisations, but decentralising feedback loops could be the answer. Whatever it is, knowing that leaders are personally invested in consulting, and that the feedback is important for decision-making, allows employees to feel trusted and valued, allowing them to deal with uncertainty productively.
  2. Communicate: If you haven’t consulted in the beginning, that’s still alright. Communicate! Share information to the affected teams: why are you making this move. What will it entail for the team? How will it affect their day-to-day? Information is key to battling uncertainty, and its important to be as open and transparent!
  3. Be consistent: Nothing creates more anxiety than conflicting information. And nothing makes the grapevine come alive as sudden change. People hear things from multiple sources, interpret them in various ways, and share them with each other, creating heightened tension, hostility and fear. A leaders job in such a time is to read this fear, and be utterly clear, and consistent on vision and goals of the decision, and the future roles of the stakeholders. When different stakeholders perceive the nature of the change differently, what results is a mess of worry, betrayal and ultimate chaos.

It’s understandable that leaders find it difficult to practice these principles when confronted with organisational crises that demand quick decisions to be made. However, being able to set ego aside, approach problems with humility and involve teams in the decision making are key leadership traits that will allow organisations to weather the bad times, and emerge stronger, united and with the ability to handle future crises. I am reminded of my favourite leadership guru (yes, I have one of those!) Ronald Heifetz, who urges leaders to alternate between the balcony and the dance floor: to come down on the ground and dance a bit, experience the tumult on the floor, and then go back to the balcony, to see the effect of that dancing. This helps those of us leading, to make quick course corrections before going back to our dances 🙂

My 3Cs approach is super basic, but somehow so far away from reality! I remember talking about this with a few people who work in corporate South Africa and was universally met with expressions that ranged from confusion to apathy, on why this was so important. Only re-emphasising the need for empathic leadership across the board, so people can start seeing the dramatic shift in results, and in general well-being across workspaces!

Would love your feedback, additions, etc!


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2 thoughts on “Leading in times of uncertainty

  1. mumtazJ says:

    I wish everyone in the world read and followed this!

    You have a link I can share on LinkedIn?

  2. sanjanaj says:

    Mumu! I have no idea how I can link this there! Will try and let you know 🙂

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