5 Tips for Leadership in Uncertain Times

In the turbulent times we’ve faced over the past few years, people are increasingly turning to business leaders for guidance and direction.

According to Edelman’s 2021 Trust Barometer, trust in employers was stable or rising, and greater than trust in government, in 18 out of 27 countries surveyed.

With so many looking to CEOs and employers to make meaningful change, how can we, as leaders, best serve our teams? How do we chart the way forward and adapt our leadership to meet the moment, when the only certainty seems to be more uncertainty?

At Belbin, we have seen many teams through highs and lows. Here are our five tips for effective leadership in a crisis.

1. Authenticity is key

Authentic leadership doesn’t mean shrugging your shoulders and saying, ‘This is me, take it or leave it’. Far from it. An authentic leader is committed to learning about and understanding their contribution to the whole, and is actively engaged in deploying their strengths and managing their shortcomings in service of the team, even as those requirements are changing.

2. Be prepared to become many different leaders.

Whilst this may seem to conflict with the advice above, it’s crucial to realise that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ in team leadership. Each team member requires a tailored response from their leader, which may demand an array of leadership skills.

In virtual teams, for example, Implementers (organised, process-driven and methodical) will need to be reassured by establishing new routines and minimising unnecessary change. Resource Investigators, on the other hand, will welcome more informal time to talk things through. Read our advice on managing teams remotely during the pandemic.

3. Foster psychological safety.

Google’s Project Aristotle found that psychological safety was the cornerstone of effective teamwork. This principle becomes especially important in leading teams through a crisis, when people need to act decisively and take more risks.

As a leader, model honesty and transparency, recognising that mistakes are part of progress and won’t provoke blame. This will ensure that problems are addressed quickly and not allowed to compromise outcomes.

4. Don’t try to go it alone.

Leadership shouldn’t be restricted to the organisational chart. Collective leadership boosts engagement and encourages others to take greater responsibility for outcomes.

Rather than perceiving the sharing of responsibility as jeopardising authority, we should celebrate the diverse forms of leadership in our teams and take comfort in the fact that the pressure is not all on one person’s shoulders.

5. Learn when to trust your instincts – and when to question them.

It can be difficult to accept that we cannot plan for every eventuality and that we won’t always get it right. Admit that the destination is unknown and the journey may involve many twists and turns.

Harvard Business Review claims that crisis leadership should be ‘urgent, honest and iterative’ and might entail going against our instincts to delay and then defend our actions. Understanding ourselves as leaders can help us to differentiate between legitimate concerns and misgivings born of our own behavioural styles in leadership.

Steering the ship

Leaders who thrive in uncertainty have worked hard to get to know themselves and those they lead. They play to their strengths and admit their failings, thereby encouraging others to do the same. This means no nasty surprises when the storm hits. They are authentic and adaptable and they acknowledge that effective leadership comes from within the group, rather than from on high.

Belbin helps teams and their leaders to understand, articulate and cultivate their strengths at work, through our reports, training and team exercises, whatever your leadership challenge. Get in touch to find out more.

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