Leadership Through Uncertainty

We’ve had an interesting week in Zimbabwe with fiscal policies announced that have far reaching implications as well as short term fall out.  It’s been hard to deal with the immediate chaos, let alone assess what it may mean for our businesses and families over the next few months.  Coupled with fuel queues, the temperature has certainly been rising.
When you lead a team of any description, that team looks to you to accurately assess the meaning of the chaos and to make decisions that will pan out in the best interests of that team.  Decisions that will calm them and provide a safe way forward.  This can feel like a tall ask, but leadership demands that we must at least have a plan.
When I think about handling chaos in an aircraft, I tend to mentally sort it into two categories.  Immediate threats and possible threats.  Things that are here now, and things that may present themselves in the near future.

Immediate Threats

Firstly, there is that which immediately affects the safety and security of my aircraft and, by that nature, the souls on board.  Anything that constitutes a direct threat is considered an emergency and must be evaluated with strong decisions that protect our safety as a priority.  Leadership is deferred to with minimal, if any discussion.  If the decision is to act, we do so with all the authority and strength our leadership allows us.  Occasionally, that decision means not embarking on today’s flight at all which can be the hardest decision to make as, even in uncertain times, people prefer action to sitting back.  One of the biggest assets that leadership has over other perspectives is the ability to maintain a “big picture” approach.  To understand how things connect and affect each other and what the possible outcomes could be.  Acknowledging this view point means that sometimes you have to take a stand and do nothing, rather than acting in the chaos and uncertainty to the detriment of your team.  Or you have to make strong decisions based on your evaluation of the information at hand and stand by the consequences knowing that you acted with the best intentions for your team.  In these moments, it helps to be in touch with your team’s stated values as these are the agreed upon guidelines within which you operate.  They’re not soft words that tick a box – they are your compass.  And they are what you are accountable to in times of uncertainty.  Often, they are the only things you have to hold to.

Possible Threats

Possible threats are things that are coming, or may come, but are not here yet.  These we have a choice to engage with or not, or at the very least to assess how we will engage with.  We also have an opportunity to discuss the way forward with our team and take advantage of the varying perspectives our team members add.  This is the advantage of HAVING a team!  These discussions must be leader-led to ensure they stay on track and productive, at the same time as inviting the input of those on your team.  It is human nature to feel fear, especially about that which we cannot exactly quantify.  We run the risk of blurring our thinking or worse, paralysing ourselves.  Yet, these discussions and sharing of thinking allows us to assess the possibilities which is an incredibly calming and unifying operation.  It allows you to make decisions as a leader with the support of your team, even when the way forward is not clear to anyone.  It also shares the responsibility for the consequences of our decisions as a team.  This is not about diluting leadership power.  It’s about empowering our teams to be part of and make strong decisions too.

Assessing The Way Forward

When assessing the way forward, both immediately and in the short term, there is one outstanding principle heralded by leaders of all shapes and forms.  Steven Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective People) talks about your Circle of Influence.  This is a way of assessing what you have control over, what you have influence in, and what is outside of your influence entirely.  Similarly, many people rely on the Serenity Prayer which extols the same principle:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”


Assessing what you can control and having the courage to act on that is your most powerful option.  Wisdom to know what is out of your control and the serenity to accept it is the icing on the cake. 
Leaders choose their position because their character traits set them apart from others, inclining them towards leadership rather than followship.  Leadership through uncertainty requires full activation of the strong and positive characteristics of a leader, and there is no better opportunity than now!

by Christen Killick

October 8th, 2018

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