Leadership In Times of Uncertainty
Experience is the best tutor, but what if the circumstances are unique?
Experience has always been and will likely always be the best tutor. For this reason, companies require their employees to have experience before taking on any role within a business unit. Of course, there are exceptions where a leader must get on-the-job training and learn as they go. Ideally, though, experience is of chief importance when leading teams. However, certain things impact businesses that are unique to the times and locations in which a company operates, and having experience may not even be possible for many of these nuances. For example, you would be extremely hard-pressed to find a single leader alive today who experienced the 1918 Pandemic (do the math), and that could respond to the current COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic with any certainty of outcomes. You may argue that there have been other similar cases throughout recent history that have been equally devastating. You would be correct. There have been at least 20 significant pandemics recorded in history, many of which you may recognize, like the AIDS pandemic and epidemic (1981-present day), the H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic (2009-2010), the West African Ebola epidemic (2014-2016), and the Zika Virus epidemic (2015-present day).¹ Many leaders in business today have been impacted to some degree by these natural (and some may argue whether or not some of these are natural at all) diseases. And then there are other natural disasters that press leadership to act in profound ways to respond to these disasters.
In the Southern states, which are prone to hurricanes, many leaders face uncertainty. Will their businesses be directly impacted when hurricanes like Irma, Andrew, Ike, and Harvey come to town? There are, of course, other devastating natural disasters such as blizzards, tornados, earthquakes, etc. which can shut down businesses entirely and leave leadership scrambling to deploy contingencies. Add to this human-made dilemmas and war. It would be difficult to find a single leader today who has not experienced the tragedy of September 11, 2001 (9-11 Never Forget). Still, the ramifications of these disasters go further than just the physical damages and impact entire economies. Leadership in times of uncertainty can stretch a leader in both positive and negative ways, and to come out on top, the leader must be flexible and adaptable.
Markets influence the decisions leaders must make.
Many leaders today face uncertainty in the markets, which are influenced by many factors, including those listed above. Depressions and recessions can leave inexperienced leaders in a bind as to how to steer the businesses they are leading. For this reason, it is always helpful to have a business coach that has seasons of experience to help guide and serve as an ally in all of the many possible anomalies which can plague a leader, instill fear and uncertainty, and cripple reliable decision-making processes.
Many of the leaders of business today who serve as C.E.O.’s are in their mid 40’s and did not go through the Great Recession of the 1980s. They will not recall having to go to the gas station on certain days, depending on what your license plate number was. In this global recession, the United States alone experienced unemployment rates, which rose from 5.1% in January of 1974 to 9.0% in May of the same year. The Youngstown-Warren Metropolitan Area had a whopping 18.7% unemployment rate! With inflation on the rise, which averaged 3.2% annually since World War II, rose to upwards of 13.5%. Banks rushed into real estate lending, speculative lending, and other ventures while the economy soured, leading to the savings and loan crisis. And speaking of leadership, it was during this point in American history that even Ronald Reagan, arguably one of the most influential world leaders in that era, had popularity ratings fall as low as 35% (which were akin to Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter at their most unpopular periods).² One board member noted, concerning his C.E.O. and the ability to lead during times of uncertainty,
“You are correct – times of uncertainty require leadership. Leading in times of uncertainty can be difficult, but we need to remember it can be even more difficult for our employees, and they are looking for us to guide them and lead them to success. The primary role of a leader is to Communicate! Tell employees what you know, what you don’t know and when you will know it.
Don’t B.S. yourself or your employees. Employees will read your B.S. faster than you will. Let them know the plan and get their input. Everyone is an adult, treat them as an adult. Stay positive and adaptable. I believe you will, at minimum, need to co-lead with _____, if not be the leader through this crisis. This, of course, is my opinion.
Keep pressing forward – that’s all we can do
Influencers can influence influencers.
As a seasoned leader with immense corporate and C.E.O. experience, Rob Ferguson has taken his expertise to the forefront of the battle in times of crisis to help influential leaders become exceptional leaders. Rob works with middle-market companies to help leaders within these organizations to thrive and reach their full potential. Rob holds that there are no truly “born leaders,” with few exceptions, but that with experience, proper training and guidance, individuals can develop into agile and inspiring leaders need for the current and future uncertain times. Rob ties his experience to the current national crisis and expresses his desire to help up and coming C.E.O.’s excel in their leadership abilities in the present times of uncertainty. Rob writes,
“During the early 1980’s I was a very young manager (and thought I knew everything). I observed some great leadership during this time and experienced zero guidance from those that were in leadership roles. I have been using my past war stories quite a bit lately with the next generation of leaders, mainly failures I observed and even some that I made. I do believe it has been helpful. I wish I had someone that could’ve done the same for me in my early stages of leadership development.