How to lead successfully through uncertainty

“I think we’re lost. Yeah, we’re lost. I KNOW we’re lost!”

Does that sound like the worried buzz at the company where you once worked – or the one where you work now?

Did the path forward once seem SO clear, so destined to be successful in the cool logic of business or project planning?

Does your plan now seem like fiction?

These “we’re lost” quotes were not from an employee sometime, somewhere.

These were the fears of our then-12-year-old son, Matt, as his 20-year-old sister, Anne, tried to lead us back to our hotel in Paris when we were trying to find our way to home base on the last night of a family trip there.

Anne was our leader in this case because she was, effectively, the only French-speaking member of the family.

She’d been nervous about taking on communications and navigation leadership at the beginning of the French portion of this trip. She grew into the role beautifully, though.

Her skills were really being tested this final evening.

And she did get us safely back to the hotel, despite the doubts of some of her followers.

What worked in this situation can help you, too, to succeed when you must adapt best-made plans quickly in order to lead successfully through uncertainty.

Make yourself easy to follow

Be clear about your vision, plan and directions.

Use simple language and descriptions that everyone can understand. Speak in specific, concrete terms.

Help your team understand what’s different in this situation from the original plan.

Be clear about your assumptions

We all know stories about teams that made incorrect assumptions in planning and then never adjusted them, despite the facts. In many of these cases great difficulties, even tragedies, occurred which might have been prevented.

Be attentive to whether your assumptions are solid…or need to be revised…as you make your way through the plan. Use good data. Figure out what it’s telling you.

Adjust both your plan and actions if facts make it clear you must.

Trust your instincts, but check the facts

One of the primary strengths of the way Anne led us back to the hotel that evening was that she started with a vision of success that held up, in spite of the nervousness around her.

She also paid close attention to her intuition, combined with the facts and feedback she could gather from the team (her family, in this case) and the environment.

Finally, she held it all together with a healthy spirit of adventure that made the team successful, and the experience memorable, in a positive way.

Show confidence, courage

This is often a major key to tipping the balance of a team’s focus from fear and anticipation of failure – particularly when plans must change rapidly – to confidence and conviction.

Armed with a vision, a revised or flexible plan, and guided by facts gathered along the way, you and your team can move with assurance in whatever circumstances you find.

Make simple agreements – and keep them

Agree with your team on the milestones at which you’ll check your progress, and the data or metrics you’ll use to evaluate whether you’re on- or off-course.

Then keep those agreements. You’ll build a strong experience of being a team – and improve your outcome – as you face uncertainty together.

Keep communication flowing

Success requires strength, confidence and everyone’s willingness to stay fully involved.

Keep lines of communication open, free-flowing.

As a team leader, be clear about how you’ll make decisions. Ask for information or feedback you need.

Listen fully. Acknowledge, sort, synthesize and incorporate essential information you receive (if you don’t, people may stop bringing it to you).

Keep communication moving. It can be the difference between success and failure.

Follow through

This one can’t be said enough. Confidence grows when teams see a growing trail of small victories, one success leading to another.

Follow up.

Follow through.

Complete each task and keep moving.

Encourage others

If you’re discouraged in the unexpected situation in which you find yourself, others on your team probably are, as well. They’re watching you very, very closely, and your mood shows more than you know.

As the leader, it’s your job to get the group successfully and safely to their destination, despite the circumstances you find yourselves in.

Your job will be easier if you help to lighten the team’s load, even by letting them know that you see how much they’re carrying.

Show appreciation for their efforts and their flexibility.

When you’re right, no gloating, no showboating

Finally, congratulate and thank each member of the team, whatever role they played in the team’s success.

Remember – you got to your final destination together, not independently.