Leading in Uncertain Times

What happened?  Almost overnight we have moved from a growing economy to uncertainty in direction and solutions. We can evaluate the what, why and how but it leaves us needing to lead and navigate in uncharted waters.  What do leaders need to take to move through this challenging time?

The first step is to become part psychologist.  You need to understand what is happening to you, your team and your customers in order to move forward in an effective way.  It frames everything you do during this time.

Let’s look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  The bottom of the pyramid focuses on safety and security needs.  Someone who is concerned about safety and security will not be able to move

maslow-hierarchy-of-needs-diagram to the next level of social acceptance (e.g. team work) unless they have their safety and security needs met.  As we move up the pyramid, we have self-esteem and self-actualization which are areas of confidence, self-motivation and productivity.  During times of success and economic growth, individuals, teams and organizations were at the self-esteem/self-actualization levels of the pyramid.  As a result of uncertainty, individuals, teams and organizations have moved to the safety and security level of the pyramid.

What does this mean to you as a leader?  You need to provide different leadership to individuals, teams and organizations at the safety and security level versus the self-esteem/self-actualization level.  Individual, teams and organizations at the safety and security level need reassurance, simplicity and frequent communication.  Individuals, teams and organizations at the self-esteem/self-actualization level need challenging assignments, freedom to grow and clarity of the strategic direction.  If you provide the same leadership provided during the growth times, you will experience behavior such as lack of productivity, anger, push back on ideas, and  demands for new information.  All are signs that you have not shifted your leadership to meet the current needs.

“But my business is doing fine so I don’t need to change.”  Even if your business is doing fine, your employees, customers and vendors are being affected by the current economic state.  It may be their family members have been laid off, their 401K has shrunk, they can’t make their house payment, or numerous other outside events that affect their needs when they come in the door to work.  So recognizing the other factors will be critical to you leading effectively.

And what about you?  Where are you on the hierarchy?  Are you taking care of your needs so you can respond and take care of your organization’s needs?  Leadership can be a lonely job. BUT you set the tone for your team or organization.  So awareness and strategies to take care of your needs will influence how you lead your team.


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