Few things are more challenging for business leaders than teams who arrive at work pre-loaded with the weight of the world. In their hearts, our people want to dig into the day’s projects, shift into deep work mode, get sh*t done, and then enjoy free time with friends and family.
But the banking situation! Politicians. AI. 😳 Layoffs! People behaving badly. War. Monetary collapse. Not to mention that incompetent driver who came *this close* to killing you on the drive into work. Maybe that last one was just me. But oof. Mayhem, right?
I can’t remember a time when communicating expertly with our teams has been more essential. Whether we call it “information overload,” “news-induced adrenal fatigue,” or whatever. What this constant deluge of triggering news actually comes down to is – drum roll, please – competing priorities.
When everything feels equally urgent, how do we parse what deserves our attention and block out everything else?
Right now, people feel the world is full of uncertainty. But the truth is, for most of us – even those of us working in banking – it’s really not that uncertain. Because the things we’re concerned about aren’t, and maybe never were, in our control.
That’s number one. Number two is: the things that are happening from a macro level right now really aren’t directly impacting our day-to-day work. We can only control what we can control. All the rest is noise.
People bring their best work when they feel in control. Our job as leaders is to keep them focused and working on the tasks at hand. Which means we need to pop that illusion of imminent danger and pervasive uncertainty. And replace it with that feeling of weightlessness we all get when our paths to success are clear and we are fully equipped to achieve our goals.
4 Ways to Annihilate Uncertainty & Get Sh*t Done
Clear and achievable beats opaque and overwhelming
So the first thing we can do is be crystal-clear about the team’s goals and break them into bite-sized pieces that are achievable in short sprints. This gives unsure workers something to celebrate at every step along the way.
Whether it’s at the end of each day, whether it’s at the end of the week (I wouldn’t go further out than end of the month), take time to celebrate the bite-sized wins. Because when people feel like they’re winning, the positivity washes away stress and anxiety.
Which means, for the science wonks, you get a dopamine release in your brain when you’re winning versus a cortisol release when you’re stressed or uncertain.
Being crystal-clear about achievable, bite-sized goals and celebrating those daily or weekly wins frequently and publicly is the first step to combatting pervasive uncertainty.
Personal progress brings the focus closer to home
The second piece of zapping the ill effects of uncertainty is bringing the focus closer to home. That means spending time developing individual team members.
The more chaos and uncertainty there is around us, the more we worry whether or not we’re skilled in the right ways to handle the coming apocalypse. It’s a natural instinct to get ready, to equip ourselves for impending battles.
As leaders, we can leverage this by devoting time to developing our direct reports. Expanding their competencies, broadening their knowledge and experience. The thrill of mastering a new skill (hello, dopamine!) comes from a sudden sense of control over something we previously felt was out of our grasp.
The more prepared people feel, the more positively they will frame uncertainties. They’ll begin to see possibilities and opportunities where they previously only saw danger.
The secret is reframing challenges as opportunities
Down South, they have a saying about putting lipstick on a pig. That’s not what I’m talking about here. As leaders, it’s not our job to make up magical stories. To tell our people that darkness is actually light if you look at it in the right way.
It IS our job to talk with them about their fears and difficulties and help them find the way through to success. Where are the opportunities in this mess? Is there anything that’s possible now as a result of this disruption that wasn’t possible before?
The difference is, instead of *telling them* everything’s all right, we’re enabling them to find their own way out of the maze. This does two things: It reframes disruption as opportunity and gives people agency over the solution.
What is that old saying? You might not be able to control your first reaction, but you can always make a choice about your second reaction. So how are we opening our team members’ best thinking up? How are we leading them to frame the situation in a way that moves them forward?
In times of high anxiety, you set the tone
As Courageous Leaders, our attitudes and behaviors set the tone for our teams. The more somber, freaked out, or stressed we are, the more our people will mirror that. So it is important to set a tone that says, “We’re awesome, and we’ve got this.”
Remember, we just survived a worldwide pandemic. That makes us winners. So, instead of hiding in the safety of crusty routines – or amplifying everyone’s anxiety with awkward expressions of empathy – we need to lighten the emotional load. Courageous Leaders are experts at turning tough times into fun, exciting, interesting challenges that shake up the norm and get the ball rolling again.
Look, we can’t control what our workers saw on social media last night … or heard from their friends or in the news … let alone how they respond to those things emotionally. But we can think about the individuals who make up our teams. What do they need? What makes them burst out laughing? What breaks them out of a funk?
Lightening things up puts the day’s dramas in perspective. We’ve survived worse. And we are capable of surviving more than we can even imagine. When the news is dramatic and negative and bad, that needs to trigger us to remember who we are deep down inside and what we’re capable of together. We can handle this.
WHAT’S NEXT? Right now, at Cindy Solomon & Associates, we are having a blast helping Courageous Leaders coach and lead through anxiety and disruption. If you’re an executive or leader seeking guidance in how to engage, inspire, and develop your people, go to www.courageousleadershipinstitute.com and sign them up for a webinar, workshop, or keynote customized to your organization’s training needs.
Cindy Solomon is CEO of the Courageous Leadership Institute, a thriving leadership and customer experience training organization with access to up-to-the-minute insights on how today’s most innovative corporations are defining the future of leadership. Learn more at www.CourageousLeadershipInstitute.com.